Thursday, August 30, 2012

Discover something new in your city! The National Maritime Museum.

National Maritime Museum at place du Trocadéro 

Aside from exposing you to new ideas, people and places, one of the best things about travel is that it opens your eyes to the attractions of your own town. Case in point - I pass the National Maritime Museum at Place du Trocadero a couple of times a week and have never had the slightest inclination to go inside the uninspiring building because views of the Eiffel Tower or thoughts of an afternoon treat at Café Carette always seem more enticing. Even the colorful signs for the current exhibition, "PHARES" ("Lighthouses") weren't enough to lure me across the threshold.

All of that changed during our recent trip to Martha's Vineyard when I learned that Paris was the lighthouse capitol of the world in the 19th century. Suddenly, I wanted to know more about the Fresnel lens, the French invention that has guided ships safely past the treacherous rocks lining the shores of Massachusetts since the mid 1800s. And what better place to start my research than the National Maritime Museum!

Making my way past gigantic seascapes, Napoleon I's opulent imperial barge and wooden models of ships, I was captivated by the magnificent pulses of light emanating from the entrance to the "Lighthouse" exhibition. As visitors are not allowed to take photographs, I focused all of my attention on the displays and learned some interesting facts. Since there's no way that my jet-lagged brain is going to find an eloquent way to move one from to another, I'm taking the easy way out and using bullet points:
  • Known as the "King of Lighthouses and the Lighthouse of Kings", Cordouan is the oldest lighthouse in France. Construction started in 1584 and it was lit for the first time in 1611. Under the direction of King Louis XIV's Finance Minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, an opulent King's Apartment was created on the second floor of the lighthouse. For this reason, the lighthouse is also known as "the Versailles of the Sea".
  • Crossing the Channel, the section on English lighthouses featured documents from Trinity House, the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales and other British territorial waters that was granted a royal charter by Henry VIII in 1514. In order to maintain its lighthouses, the corporation charges "light dues", a toll levied on ships proportional to their tonnage.
  • The Arc de Triomphe was used as a platform to test the first system of Fresnel lenses on September 7, 1821. The light was seen 26 kilometres away. 
With sections on Cordouan Lighthouse, Fresnel lenses, the history of lighthouses in Paris, the architecture of lighthouses, the responsibilities of a lighthouse keeper, maritime security, the authors who were inspired by lighthouses and interactive games for children, this exhibition is a "must-see" for anyone interested in lighthouses. After making the mistake of going without my husband, I'll be returning with Stephane in the very near future.

PHARES (March 7-November 4, 2012)
Palais de Chaillot 
17 place du Trocadéro, 75116 Paris 

Good to know: Be sure to get a free audio guide because all of the signage in the exhibition is in French.

In the meantime, I plan to visit a lighthouse in a very unusual location this weekend. If you can guess where it is, I'll treat you to a glass of champagne if/when you're in Paris. There is a clue in the previous sentence and on "Out and About's" facebook page. [Edit: Congratulations to Gwan for answering correctly in an amazingly short amount of time! The clues were "glass of champagne" and a photo of a champagne cellar in Reims because the lighthouse is located in the middle of the vineyards in Verzenay in the Champagne region of France. Isn't that an odd place for a lighthouse? I'll tell you why it's there in a post next week.]

I was able to take a photo of this first order Fresnel lens because it's part of the permanent exhibition at the National Maritime Museum.
"Lighthouses of France". Be sure to allow enough time to visit the giftshop because there are some interesting items.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Career? What Career? Musings on what it means to be a trailing spouse...

Stéphane and I made the decision to become career expats while visiting a friend, who worked for Caterpillar, in Ivory Coast West Africa in 1986. Here we are standing in front of a massive termite hill.

What do you think - Is blogging a profession? And by blogging, I don't mean the big fashion and food bloggers who are paid for what they do. I'm talking about bloggers like me who spend their days taking photos and writing about whatever pops into their heads.

In case you're wondering why I'm sitting around pondering this rather mundane question when I could be out exploring Paris, it's because I have an important decision to make. One that I had hoped would resolve itself if I procrastinated long enough. But no, it reared its ugly head in the form of an email from Stéphane yesterday reminding me to register for the upcoming Paris International Dual Career Network in September.

Perhaps I need to back up and explain. In expat lingo, I'm what's called a "trailing spouse". This used to mean that I was viewed by Stéphane's company as a somewhat useless appendage that occasionally had to be appeased with dinners and morale boosting speeches by visiting executives. As the gender balance shifts and more women employees are asked to move abroad, multinational companies are starting to realize that they need to offer actual incentives to trailing spouses. Men's careers, after all, are much too important to be left to rot and wither on the vine in foreign lands.

Am I bitter? A little bit! But that's only because I've witnessed the brain drain caused by smart, ambitious, hard-working women who couldn't work because their husband's company offered nothing in the way of support. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, human resource departments are scrambling to do something. And that something is the Paris International Dual Career Network organized by ten leading multinational companies based in France.

As Stéphane's spouse, I'm invited to attend. The only problem, as I told him last night, is that this assistance is coming a little bit too late for me. I'm long past the stage where I have a career to develop. According to the email that Stéphane forwarded to me, the network organizes events throughout the year allowing international employees’ partners to:
  • Collect useful information on the employment market in the region;
  • Meet directly with the HR teams of the member companies;
  • Receive practical tips and hints on how to organise a job search in a most effective and impactful manner;
  • Share success stories, exchange experiences and challenges with other international employees’ partners;
  • Build meaningful relationships helping you to move ahead.
I can't help but imagine the scenario where I introduce myself to someone from the HR department of L’Oréal or Société Générale during the networking session and they ask about my profession. Should I respond "blogger" or tell them that I used to be a financial analyst 25 years ago, the owner of a small handicraft store 16 years ago and a teacher of English as a foreign language 10 years ago? After all, recreating ourselves whenever we're transferred to a new country is what female trailing spouses have been doing for years.

Disclaimer: In spite of my venting, I am and have always been pleased that Stéphane and I jointly made the decision to become career expatriates.

Edit: It's not all champagne and foie gras! Click here to read Gwan's post on what it's takes to be an expat in France.

The lure of foreign lands is too strong to resist...
Ivory Coast

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dreams do come true - Meeting "Just Another American in Paris" for lunch.

Our lunch at Etete. Deliciously spicy!

Anne of "Just Another American in Paris" is witty, perceptive, funny, honest, adventurous and exactly the kind of person you hope to cross paths with if you're an expat in a foreign land. Her blog was my lifesaver during the early days of our move when I didn't know diddly squat about living in Paris. Equipped with information gleaned from her posts, I felt like an insider when I told Stéphane about SOS Médecins, the doctors that make house calls, or that the Hôtel de la Marine, the headquarters of the French navy, was for sale because the navy was moving to the 15th arrondissement after spending 220 years in luxurious digs at the Place de la Concorde. Even though it was a virtual, one-sided relationship, "Just Another American" (I never presumed to call her Anne!) was there when I needed her most, every morning while I drank my first cup of tea and mentally prepared myself to start another day on my own in the big city.

So, imagine my disappointment when I realized that "Just Another American" was leaving Paris just as I was getting settled. Poof! Gone were my fantasies of a chance meeting in Tang Freres or Notre Dame. I would never have the opportunity to meet the woman I had grown to admire. Or, at least that's what I thought until we arranged to have lunch together in Washington DC last Thursday. Feeling giddy and nervous with excitement, I pulled open the door of the small Ethiopian restaurant and saw Anne waving her hand in welcome, just as her blog had greeted me when we first moved to Paris.

Thanks for providing me with the information I needed to start my new life in France, Anne, and for being my blogging mentor. You'll never be "just" another American in Paris to me!

After a much appreciated vacation in the USA, Stéphane and I landed at Charles de Gaulle airport yesterday morning. As soon as my internal clock adjusts to European time, I plan to return to blogging on a more regular basis. In the meantime, please check out my recently created Facebook page to see photos of things that catch my eye and links for interesting articles about Paris. Out and About in Paris on Facebook.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Are you smarter than the average Annapolitan? Test your knowledge with Pub Quiz 465 at Galway Bay!

Without fail, there are certain events that occur every week during the summer in Annapolis: Galway Bay hosts a pub quiz on Tuesday, sailboats vie for first place in the Annapolis Yacht Club race on Wednesday and it's free Brats and German potato salad at Ram's Head Tavern on Thursday. This all-important schedule is firmly fixed in my mind. Yet, Stephane and I always manage to arrive at Spa Creek Bridge just in time to see thirsty sailors popping open cans of icy cold beer to celebrate the conclusion of another exciting race on Wednesday.

Fortunately, we had better luck on Tuesday night because we were already half way through our fish and chips when Finton Galway revealed the answers to Part I of the pub quiz. If you would like to match your wits against rowdy sailors, professors from St. John's College and the Naval Academy and local Annapolitans, here are 10 of the 30 questions included in Pub Quiz 465. Rules state that no life lines (text messaging, cell phones, etc.) are allowed. Two to six people are on a team.
  1. What is the actual title of Leonardo de Vinci's great painting, "Mona Lisa"? (An easy one for all of you who are frequent visitors to the Louvre or who have read The Da Vinci Code).
  2. Why did a Bible published in London in 1632 become known as the Wicked Bible?
  3. According to legend, who fired the arrow that hit Achilles in the heel, his only vulnerable spot?
  4. The capitals of which two South American countries are located on the mouth of the same river, the Rio de la Plata?
  5. In what country did the windmill originate?
  6. What was Juliet's last name in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"?
  7. After German flying ace Manfred von Richtofen was killed in action in World War I, which famous man became commander of his "Flying Circus" fighter squadron?
  8. Who designed the Statue of Liberty's iron skeleton for French sculptor Frederick Auguste Bartholdi?
  9. What major European country is not a member of the United Nations?
  10. If you flew due east from Cape Horn, where would you next pass over land?
Best of all, most of the money from the weekly pub quizzes goes to charity. [Update: When I returned to Galway Bay to pick up the answers for the pub quiz, I learned that they have raised approximately $100,000. The winning team donates the earnings to the organization of their choice, such as Box of Rain, a local charity that offers maritime programs to disadvantaged youths ages 9-14.

Here's a bit of Annapolitan trivia for you: which local Irish pub appears in the recently filmed, Better Living Through Chemistry? Galway Bay, of course!

  1. La Giocanda (La Joconde in French)
  2. Because the word "not" was missing from the 7th commandment, hence "thou shalt commit adultery)
  3. Paris
  4. Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, and Uruguay's capital, Montevideo
  5. In Iran
  6. Capulet
  7. Hermann Goering
  8. Gustave Eiffel
  9. Switzerland (When Stephane and I passed by Galway Bay for a beer and to pick up the answers to this quiz on Friday, we mentioned that the answer is incorrect because Switzerland joined the UN in 2002. It was at this point that I was reminded of one of the rules of the Galway Pub Quiz: Finton's answers are always right! His brother also took the opportunity to make a couple of jokes about the Swiss, including "How do you make a Swiss Roll [sponge cake roll]?" Answer: You knock one down a hill."
  10. Cape Horn, there is no other land at the same latitude (Remember, Finton's answers are always correct!)
Filming at Galway Bay in May, 2012.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Where do you ride your bicycle? Vélib in Paris and Hubway in Boston want to know!

Commemorative cups celebrating the 5th anniversary of Vélibs in Paris. After Stéphane bought these two mugs for our children, I went back to the temporary boutique to get some more and was told that they were sold out. Unfortunately, they only made 40 of each model because they weren't sure if there would be a demand for them. There was!

With over 20,000 bicycles, the Vélib public bike sharing system is well on its way to becoming as synonymous with Paris as the Eiffel Tower. No matter the time of year or the weather, it's easy to spot enthusiastic cyclists crossing the Pont St. Louis or making their way precariously around the Place de la Concorde. Whenever I see an impeccably dressed woman in a skirt and high heels or a man balancing a large musical instrument on the back of his bicycle, I always want to ask where they're headed. It seems that I'm not the only one who wants to know because the official website for the city of Paris recently posted a slide show of people who responded to the question, "Tu vas où avec ton Vélib'?" (Where do you go with your Velib?"). My favorite answer was by a couple from New York who said, "We're wandering around without a precise destination today. Maybe we'll go to the Luxembourg or the Tuileries, we'll see." Please click here to view the slideshow.

The two women from Hubway generously agreed let me take their photo when I explained that we live in Paris. They also took the opportunity to ask me some questions about Vélibs. It's a good thing that Stephane was there to answer them!

Interestingly enough, the public bike sharing program in Boston that is based on the Parisian one wanted to know, "Women! Why do you bike??" and "Women! Why don't you ride??" when I was at the Copley Square Market last week. Responses to "Why not" outnumbered "why" and included:

  • Live too far from work/life.
  • I'm scared of getting killed.
  • I have a scooter and can't believe how unbelievably rude bicycling has become in the city. (I biked for 20 years.)

As a Vélib virgin, I can easily relate to the desire to remain alive. It's one of the main reasons why I haven't joined Stéphane as he cycles about Paris. My status is going to change though because I intend to start my Vélib adventure by biking through the Bois de Bolougne in the very near future. If I live to tell the tale, I'll let you know how it goes!

Velib website in English
Hubway website

Sometimes it's still preferable to walk rather than ride down the narrow streets of Paris.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday's Picture and a Song: Moon River, kayaking and yachts

Empty boat slips and me taking a picture of the crowd at Pusser's Caribbean Grille in May. Credit: Stéphane.

One of Stephane and my favorite pastimes in Annapolis is marveling at all of the luxurious yachts and impressive shore front properties while paddling our kayaks around Spa Creek and the Chesapeake Bay because it always reassures us that the top 1% are alive and well in America. The only problem, as I discovered last night, is that the wakes caused by the much larger vessels make it almost impossible to take pictures. If anyone knows of a way to counteract the rocking movement of a kayak and to keep a secure grip on the paddle while snapping photos in dim light, please tell me!
The light on the bow of my kayak was cleverly designed by Stephane and is actually a solar powered garden light.

As the above picture is the only one that turned out semi-sharp, I took some more from the shore this afternoon.

Kayaks are just about the smallest boats on the Bay. We have to keep an eye on the larger vessels and paddle like crazy to get out of their way, kind of like little water bugs.

When we paddled past the Redemption (in the background) last night, it felt as if we were gazing up at a skyscraper. Curious about its owner, we googled the yacht's name and saw that it appears to be for sale. If you're in the market for a 130 ft (39.62m) yacht that sleeps ten, you'll find more information about it from Yachting Partners International. Otherwise, here are some photos of the interior that I copied from their website. When it's time to chart a course for the open water, please remember that I know how to make an Elderflower Champagne Cocktail and would be an excellent addition to your crew. Plus, I have experience at sea thanks to my kayak!

The Redemption is staffed by a full crew.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Feeling kind of "crabby" in Annapolis

"THE CRAB IS IN" - I need to get one of these signs for the front door of our house in Annapolis because I'm convinced that it has a much better time hosting United States Naval Academy families and troupes of professional actors from NYC than it does when Stéphane and I are in residence. Whereas our visitors spend their time kayaking, biking, playing games and praising the house for its historic charm, Stephane and I walk through its rooms muttering ominously about aging pipes, warped wood and everything that we have to do to make it look better. At less than half of our painted lady's age, I certainly wouldn't like to hear people whispering conspiratorially about my wrinkles, stomach flab and grey hair!

Nonetheless, in an effort to give our Southern Belle a face lift before the arrival of her next guests, Stéphane and I had to make a quick decision about which colors would best enhance her features. As you can tell by looking at the photo below, it wasn't a straightforward process! Worried that we were going to go with some new-fangled Parisian fashion, like yellow with grey spots, neighbors suddenly found compelling reasons to drop by and ask about our color selections.

The grey spots are filler. After careful consideration, we decided to go with the lighter green paint on top. If you don't like it, please don't tell me! We already had to buy more paint after we changed our mind about the bottom color. We also decided on red for the door, black for the shutters and natural wood for the front porch.

In between trimming overgrown trees and washing all of the bedding...

Stéphane and I took a bit of time off from our chores last night to have dinner with some of our neighbors at Reynold's Tavern. After hearing about St-Germain, a delicate French liqueur of elderflower blossoms, while I was staying with Carolyn in Boston, I was pleased to see that their August special is a refreshing Elderflower Champagne Cocktail. Here's the recipe:

Elderflower Champagne Cocktail

Fill a tumbler with ice. Fill three-quarters of the glass with dry champagne or prosecco. Add thinly sliced cucumber and fresh mint. Top off with St-Germain.

P.S. Please let me know if you need some fresh mint because I've been ripping large bunches of it out of the overgrown flowerbeds. The good news is that the air smells wonderful!

Cheers - to a delightfully refreshing summertime drink.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Looking for lobster on Martha's Vineyard and the Fresnel lens

A sailboat with Nobska Point Lighthouse in the background.

What is it that compels people to load a boat with supplies and set sail towards the horizon? Whether it's the desire to start a new life, explore exotic lands or dine at a restaurant that serves freshly caught lobster, it helps if there's a lighthouse to guide the way.

Thanks to an old photo of the Gay Head Lighthouse that Stephane noticed while we were traveling on the ferry from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts yesterday evening, we learned that seafaring people have long been thankful for the Fresnel lens developed by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel. Described as amazing, brilliant, super-efficient, magical light machines, the multi-prism glass lenses were used by all of the lighthouses in the United States by the time of the Civil War.

Prior to the introduction of the Fresnel lens, lighthouses used as many as fifteen or twenty individual oil lamps. Not only did they consume a tremendous amount of oil, but they weren't that bright and couldn't be seen from far away. The prisms of the Fresnel lens magnified and redirected the light source into horizontal beams of light that reached greater distances over the water. At the time, French firms such as the Henry-Lepaute company of Paris were the only ones making Fresnel lenses. The Gay Head Lighthouse had an enormous first-order Fresnel lens that contained 1,008 prisms.

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Bill Grieder whose father Frank was keeper of the Gay Head Lighthouse from 1937 to 1948:

There was always some work for me. I used to polish brass. I learned to light the lighthouse, and I taught my mother to do it. There were times when my Dad was sick -- my Mum would go up to light the light or I would go up. Of course we had an assistant keeper, but if you couldn't call on him you did it yourself.

I went up to help whitewash or paint the tower, and mow the lawn of course. Lug the kerosene up in the tower. Polish the lens. It had to be cleaned and dusted all the time. We had a dust cover over that. In the wintertime we used to put glycerin on the outside of the [lantern] glass, so if you got rain it wouldn't ice up.

Our destination last night: The Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts.
The reward: freshly caught lobster!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday's picture and a song: Boston Beans and BostonZest

Sel de la Terre's roasted vegetable wrap: zucchini, portobello mushroom, roasted red pepper, sliced cucumber, chèvre goat cheese and pesto.

Like singer Peggy Lee, I've discovered that "they have no beans in Boston". But thanks to outings with Penny of BostonZest, I've come to learn that the city is a foodies' delight. Rather than write a post about our lunch at Sel de la Terre, a restaurant serving farm fresh, Provençal-inspired cuisine and sparkling wine from Massachusetts, I invite you to read Penny's review of her 2008 Thanksgiving dinner. After all, she's the widely acknowledged expert on Boston!

I do, however, have to say that I was so impressed by the service, setting and food at SDLT that I took our entire family there for lunch yesterday. It was just as good the second time around as it was the first. Next on my wish list is dinner at the exclusive chef's table in the kitchen at their sister restaurant, L'Espalier. Watching the chefs at work would be the ultimate culinary experience.

774 Boylston St.
Boston, MA

Many thanks to Joseph the Butler for recommending today's song!

SDLT's grilled chicken breast, garlic hummus, green leaf lettuce, and shaved red onion on focaccia 

Westport Rivers - sparkling wine from Massachusetts!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Living like a local in Boston thanks to Carolyn and HomeExchange

The croissants at Clear Flour Bread rival any of those that I've had in Paris. Their Gruyere croissant, which was recently voted the best in Boston, is the perfect combination of Swiss cheese and French pastry.

Which bakery makes the best croissants and baguettes? Where can I find locally grown heirloom tomatoes and corn on the cob? What's the name of the grey building with the gargoyles? Does Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, still live in Back Bay?

If you would have asked me any of those questions last week, I would have been hard pressed to give you an answer. But after spending the past couple of days with Carolyn, whom I had the good fortune to meet online while I was looking for a home exchange, I have a fairly good idea of what it's like to live in Boston because she has been telling me about the city's history and pointing out all of her favorite places during our early morning walks along the Charles River Basin and through the Boston Common.

Breads, tarts, bouchons and financiers at Clear Flour. Please click to enlarge.

While many people balk at the thought of letting strangers stay in their home, meeting kindred souls that I would have otherwise never encountered is the best part of house swapping. That's the consensus that fellow home exchangers Mike, Peter, Carolyn and I reached when we dined at Aragosta on Thursday evening. We all agreed, however, that it pays to be cautious and that it's important to vet prospective exchange partners. The rewards, however, are well worth it!

Even though Stephane was disappointed that his travel schedule didn't allow him to see Carolyn before she left for Vermont yesterday, they had already met when Carolyn was in Paris in April and while we were in Boston in May. As the retired owner of an event and destination management company, Carolyn is an expert on her city and I'm sincerely thankful to her for taking the time to introduce me to such a wide variety of places, including Clear Flour for bread and Serenade Chocolatier for the most amazing hand-dipped ice cream bars. Stephane and I look forward to reciprocating her warm hospitality in the near future and to showing her some our favorite spots in Paris.

If living like a local and not like a tourist appeals to you, take a look at HomeExchange. With 41,000 listings in 150 countries, it's the number one home exchange club and how I met Peter, Mike and Carolyn.

Hip, hip hooray! Our August vacation has officially started.

Clear Flour Bread - crusty baguettes, flaky croissants, amazing tarts and a sense of humor, too!
A sinfully decadent treat - hand-dipped ice cream bars!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cross one off the bucket list - watching the Red Sox play at Fenway

"What kind of clothes should I pack for my trip to Paris?" That's the first question that people usually ask as soon as they've booked their plane ticket to France. With hindsight, I wish that I would have asked for some local advice on what to wear in Boston because I neglected to bring anything that's red, blue or looks remotely like Red Sox gear, which is why I ended up at Fenway Park in a black cotton dress that's more suitable for a café on the Boulevard Saint-Germain than the oldest Major League Baseball stadium in the country.

For as long as I can remember, seeing the Red Sox play at Fenway Park has been on my 'bucket list" and yesterday's game against the Texas Rangers didn't disappoint. As the refrain from "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" played in my mind, I was proud to share my superior knowledge of the sport, gleaned from one summer of playing softball, with Philippe. I can only imagine what the die hard Red Sox fans behind us thought as I tried to remember the term for the pitcher who finishes a game and the tactics involved with base running.

Fortunately, the crowd of 37,000 spectators was in a jovial mood and I had a good time chatting with the proud Bostonians about "America's National Pastime". While munching on an over sized Italian sausage topped with jalapenos, ketchup and mustard and guzzling an icy cold beer, it occurred to me that watching a baseball game with my son was the best way to spend my first full day back in the United States. There's no place like home!

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win, it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

Put on your Red Sox baseball cap for an afternoon at Fenway! Please click on any of the photos that you would like to enlarge.

Texas Ranger outfielders in front of the high wall known as "The Green Monster".

"Daddy 1" - I'm kind of surprised that Philippe didn't make a "Mom 1" shirt for me to wear!
Movies filmed at Fenway
Boston policeman are a special breed! Here's one joking with the Red Sox fans standing next to the Texas Rangers' dugout.
The fans heading home after a disappointing 10-9 loss to the Rangers.
For Tom. Congratulations on catching a foul ball at the Brewers' game. I thought of you when I saw all of the people, including the man in the above photo, who caught balls at Fenway. I wish that I would have brought my glove! ;)