Sunday, September 30, 2012

Making Memories While Riding in the Paris-Deauville Vintage Car Rally

Marie-Claire and Jean-Pierre. I wish that I would have thought to ask why the driver is on right in this French automobile.

As Jean-Pierre's gloved hands maneuvered the sleek Delage around a tight curve, I gazed at the sun-dappled landscape and told myself to remember every detail of that specific moment in time. The sensation of the cool wind blowing across my cheeks, the soft buttery feel of the leather as I ran my fingertips lightly over the back seat and the earthy smell of the French countryside. They all merited my full attention. For unlike most trips where the sole purpose is getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, the journey is as important as the destination while riding in one of the best classic car events in France, the Paris-Deauville Rally.

The adventure had started the previous afternoon when Jérôme Hardy of the French Automobile Association greeted me warmly at Place Vendôme and pointed to the luxurious Delage cabriolet in which I would spend the day. Unfamiliar with the descriptive expressions used by vintage car aficionados, I could only utter, "She's exquisite!" As the Brass Band of the Republican Guard created a festive atmosphere by playing rousing tunes, Jérôme introduced me to Jean-Pierre so that we could make arrangements to meet at Château de Versailles bright and early the following morning.

Château de Versailles in all of its early morning splendor.

Worried that I would somehow oversleep and miss my train, I spent the night tossing, turning and wondering what to wear. When the alarm finally went off at 6:00 am, I jumped out of bed, hopped in the shower and threw on some clothes. Today was the day! I was riding in the 46th Paris-Deauville Rally.

After a continental breakfast and a pit stop at the Hotel de France, the international group of French, English and German drivers and their co-pilots returned to their pre-1941 cars and pre-1960 coupés and cabriolets to prepare for the first leg of the journey. Noticing that all of the people in the cabriolets were bundled in furry jackets, gloves and hats, I was thankful when one of the French women kindly offered to let me borrow her beanie. With the hat pulled snugly over my ears, I settled into the back seat of the Delage behind Jean-Pierre and his charming wife, Marie-Claire.

The convoy of vintage Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Bugattis, Jaguars, Mercedes, MGs and Delages created quite a stir as we drove along narrow country roads and through quaint villages on our way to the Normandy coast.

Right on schedule, we passed through the gates of the magnificent Château de Beaumesnil for a tour of the castle known as the "Norman Versailles" and a tasty lunch. A rare example of baroque architecture, the castle was built during the reign of Louis XIII and has an important collection of 17th and 18th century books.

With only 75 kilometers left to go, it wasn't long before the cars assembled in a parking lot near the port of Deauville to wait for the mayor to welcome us officially to the city.

For someone who likes to stay in the background and maintain a low profile, it was an odd sensation to ride in such a luxurious car that attracts so much attention. Inching along the cobblestone street leading to the Town Hall of Deauville, I overheard people exclaim with delight as they focused their cameras on the Delage. And for once, I set my camera down. After all, this was a moment that I wanted to fully appreciate and remember for the rest of my life.

Even though the official end of the rally isn't until Monday morning, I said goodbye to Jean-Pierre and Marie-Claire at the Hotel Normandy Barrière on Friday evening. During the return trip to Paris, I gazed out the train window and recalled all of the events of the day. Many thanks to Jérôme for making it possible, Jean-Pierre and Marie-Claire for letting me ride with them and the other participants for their warm reception. Riding in the 46th Paris-Deauville Rally was a truly memorable experience!

Want to see a photo of the Delage? There will be lots of pictures of the automobiles in tomorrow's post.

Hotel Normandy Barrière in Deauville.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sunday's picture and a song - Lana Del Rey in Paris

Don't worry. There hasn't been some sort of weird time warp that caused you to miss out on a full day of your weekend! I'm posting "Sunday's Picture and a Song" on Saturday because my brain is too tired to write a real post.

If you don't recognize the young woman in the photos, don't feel bad. I certainly didn't when I saw a crowd gathered around her in front of the Westin Hotel in Paris on Thursday afternoon. Seeing her name on the cover of a CD that she was autographing for a fan didn't enlighten me as to her identity either. It was only after Ella Coquine commented on my last post that I would probably like Lana Del Rey's music that I decided to listen to some of her songs. And, of course, I know her! Sara and I sang along with "Video Games" while I was visiting our children in Boston at this time last year. Warning: This haunting song is one of those that gets stuck in your head. I've already listened to it about five (or eight or more!) times today.

For someone who grew up in small towns in the mid-western section of the United States far from any well-known people, I always get a thrill when I stumble across someone famous in Paris. The moral of the story is to keep your camera strapped around your neck even if it means that you look like a tourist, take photos first and ask questions later. With any luck, you'll end up with pictures of someone whose work you admire.

Lana Del Rey graciously signed autographs and posed with fans in front of the Westin Hotel in Paris.

Friday, September 28, 2012

What a difference one year makes! Horses, cars and beautiful people...

Oh, what a difference one year makes....

September 30, 2011: When I followed some horses clippity-clopping down the rue de Rivoli, I had no idea that they were the French Republican Guard.

September 27, 2012: I was waiting to take photos of the procession from a prime location on the rue de Castigilione.

2011: After following the French Republican Guard to the Place Vendome, I was surprised to see all of the sleek vintage cars that were participating in the 45th annual Paris-Deauville Rally.

2012: I'll be riding in a Delage automobile in the rally and posting updates from the road on facebook and twitter.

2011: I mistook Ciara for Beyonce and didn't recognize any of the fashionistas.

2012: I still don't know who's who but I've learned to look for signs, like fans holding CDs for the stars to autograph, so that I can google them as soon as I get home!

American singer Lana Del Rey, who released her first album, "Born to Die" in January 2012, at the Westin Hotel in Paris.

2011: I didn't recognize Guillaume Hoarau (bottom left), a professional soccer player for Paris Saint-Germain.

2012: I noticed that Guillaume Hoarau's friend (dressed in black) was with a different PSG soccer player whose name I don't know. Some things never change!

Please click here to see last year's post on horses, cars and beautiful people.

Photo from 2011 (left) and 2012 (right).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"Every man has two countries, his own and France"...but I vote in the USA!

Every man has two countries, his own and France. - Thomas Jefferson

I have two loves, my country and Paris. - Josephine Baker

America is my country and Paris is my hometown. - Gertrude Stein

American expats in Paris. We're such a cliche! Thanks to movies made in Hollywood, many people think that we spend our days strolling aimlessly along the Seine, drinking coffee in dimly lit cafés and wishing that we were French. While I readily admit to engaging in some of those activities, most of the expats I know are like Josephine Baker and Gertrude Stein - Americans, first and foremost.

With the presidential elections fast approaching in the United States, Mlle Ella Coquine and I braved the inclement weather and made our way to Shakespeare & Company to register to vote yesterday morning. Thanks to the patient guidance of Tony Paschall from the Union of Overseas Voters, I was able to correctly complete my form on the second, or perhaps the third, attempt. On October 6, I'll write the name of the person whom I want to lead the United States for the next four years on my absentee ballot and mail it to the United States secure in the knowledge that my voice will be heard all of the way from France.

While the U.S. Department of State does not know the exact number of Americans living abroad, estimates put the number at 6.32 million, excluding the military. There are approximately 100,000 US citizens residing in France.

If you live abroad, it's not too late to register to vote. Please click here to go to the Federal Voting Assistance Program website. But hurry, there are only 41 more days until the 2012 presidential election.

Even coquines vote! Here's Mlle Ella with an American flag in her hair feeling very patriotic after registering to vote yesterday morning.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Change of Heart: Passport for "Happy Hours of Paris" and "There Were Children"

My "Happy Hours of Paris" goodie bag includes a passport for the event.

Monday morning blues: Heavy rainstorms. Sad farewell to "Joseph the Butler". Appointment with the gynecologist. Young woman with beautiful voice singing "Ave Maria" on the metro. General feeling of melancholy.

That's a brief synopsis of my day up until the moment when I asked the surly man at the welcome counter in the Hôtel de Ville for three passports for "Happy Hours in Paris". Either the adjective "welcome" is a misnomer or the grey day had dampened his mood because he curtly responded that he would give me one passport at 12:00 pm. Unable to understand why I had to wait 30 minutes for him to honor a seemingly simple request, the man grudgingly revealed that the passports hadn't arrived yet and that he was skeptical that he would receive them by noon.

Rather than wandering around in the rain for half an hour, I decided to visit the free exhibition "C'étaient des enfants" ("There Were Children") that honors the memory of the Jewish children who were killed in concentration camps during World War II and those that managed to survive thanks to the efforts of fellow Parisians. Featuring letters, drawings, personal belongings and photos, the exhibition urges visitors to contemplate the long lasting impact of the children's separation from their parents when they were sent to concentration camps or safe houses in the unoccupied zones of France.

One letter in particular evoked memories of my own worst childhood fear. It was written by Henri Yacoubovitch on August 3, 1942. "Je suis à Pithiviers avec André. Maman est partie hier, où je ne sais pas, alors nous restons ici tout seuls." (I'm in Pithiviers with Andre. Mother left yesterday, where I don't know, so we are staying here alone.) Of the 11,000 children deported from France, only 200 of them returned.

Jerked out of my Monday morning funk by the realization that a little bit of rain is nothing when compared with the insurmountable challenges faced by people in war torn countries, I returned to the welcome desk and was pleasantly surprised to receive two passports for "Happy Hours in Paris". Life is good.

"C'étaient des enfants" ("There Were Children") until October 27, 2012
Hôtel de Ville
29 rue de Rivoli
10 am - 7:00 pm every day with the exception of Sundays and holidays.

"Playground. Reserved for children. Forbidden for Jews." C'étaient des enfants exhibition at the Hotel de Ville.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Kale and Joseph the Butler make their grand debuts at Verjus Wine Bar in Paris!

Once upon a time in a faraway land (a.k.a. New York City), there was a young princess who worked in an advertising agency by day and threw rooftop cocktail parties with her friends at night. One day, she spied Sir Lancelot riding in an elevator, not on a white steed, and fell head over heels in love. Not only did Sir L sweep the princess off her feet, but he took her to a faraway land. Paris. A city bereft of English speakers and of a healthy, green vegetable called kale.

Not being one to sit around and complain, the princess was spurred into action. She talked with chefs, visited restaurants and convinced French farmers to start growing this superfood. To celebrate the fruition of her labors, she organized the first ever kale event in a city renowned for its food. Kale deprived expats and visitors from afar gathered at Verjus Wine Bar on Thursday evening to partake of tasty dishes like fried chicken with a kale twist and to-die-for buratta and kale salad.

And that's how the Kale Queen was born! Please visit The Kale Project to learn more.

Kale wasn't the only hot item making its debut in Paris on Thursday night. To the delight of many Parisian bloggers, Joseph the Butler from Chicago made first public appearance, as did CBaarch and S from Canada. As always, it was heartwarming to see how supportive the Parisian expat community is of each other and to reconnect with Finding Noon, Tales from the Chambre de Bonne and Paris Cheapskate. It was also a real pleasure to finally meet HJ Underway, Totally Frenched Out and Bryan Pirolli.

Thanks to Kristen's efforts, kale is now available at some markets in Paris. Here's Joseph the Butler selecting a leafy bunch on Friday morning.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Shattering Stereotypes - World's Largest Fashion Show at Galeries Lafayette

Let's change things up a bit today and play a virtual word association game. I'll start. "Model" Even though I couldn't hear what you said, I'll bet that your response included "tall", "thin", "young", "beautiful" or some similar combination of adjectives because those are the descriptors that immediately come to most people's minds, like it or not.

While there were plenty of participants in the World's Largest Fashion Show who fit the glossy magazine perception of "model", I applaud Galeries Lafayette for casting many people who didn't conform to the stereotypical definition of the word.

With striking eyes and a friendly smile, Dutch journalist and blogger Helene van Santen told me that it had always been her dream to be in a fashion show but that she never thought that it would be possible because of her height. At 160 cm (5'2"), she just naturally assumed that she was too short to be a model until she applied to be in the first edition of the show in 2011. When I asked how it felt to walk down the runway in front of hordes of cheering people, she responded "Amazing! It feels like you're on top of the world."After a moment of contemplation, Helene added that it was impossible to sleep afterwards because she was on such a natural adrenaline high. Much to her delight, visitors to her apartment in Holland always exclaim over a photograph hanging on her wall. It was taken while she was strutting her stuff on the catwalk in Paris. It just goes to show that dreams can come true -- twice!

Helene with the makeup artist and looking "on top of the world" again in 2012.

Another woman who is actively working to shatter the stereotypical image associated with the word "model" is the former headmistress of the French School in Barcelona.

Realizing that she wanted to change her life after she retired, this elegant 65 year old woman with elegantly coiffed silver hair decided to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a model. It wasn't, however, quite as easy as she expected because most of the agencies discouraged her efforts after learning her age. With tears in her eyes that threatened to ruin her dramatic makeup, she revealed that she didn't want to live her life thinking "I could have ..." so with steely resolve she finally located a school that would teach her the tricks of the trade. Determined to remain true to herself and abstain from altering her face with cosmetic surgery, she stressed the necessity of providing younger women with role models who affirm that women of all ages are beautiful.

Caught up in the emotions of the moment, I regret not asking Madame for her contact information because I would have liked to tell her that she'll serve as my inspiration whenever I encounter barriers associated with age. Whether you've always dreamed of learning a new language, traveling to faraway lands or walking down a runway in Paris, remember it's never too late!

I'll be interested to see if the jury selects either of these two inspirational women to appear in the January issue of Glamour magazine.

Please click here to see Helene's blog post about her day as a Parisian model.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Behind the Scenes at the 2012 World's Largest Fashion Show at Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

How do you go from being just another girl on the metro in the morning to a glamorous model walking down the runway in front of throngs of cheering people in the evening?

Step 1: Choose from one of four themes (City Slicker, Tea Time, Cocktail Time and Night Owl) and submit your application for the World's Largest Fashion Show organized by Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

Step 2: Receive an email from Galeries Lafayette for a casting call in front of a panel of experts, including the casting director, the Deputy Chief Editor of Glamour Magazine, a make-up stylist, a hair stylist, Galeries Lafayette's fashion experts and two fashion bloggers.

Step 3: Bedazzle the panel and join 400 other people at the Hotel Salomon de Rothschild on September 18, 2012 for one of the most thrilling days of your life.

9:00 am: The arrival of the lucky participants is staggered according to their chosen look. The City Slickers are the first on the scene in over-sized jackets, flat caps and trench coats followed by Tea Time models in prints with a touch of fur or embroidery to create a fusion of luxury and pop art. As all of the models are wearing their own clothes, it's fascinating to see the outfits that they've selected for the big day. Those who are in the Cocktail Time category shimmer in silks and satins, while the Night Owls in leather and lace are all about drama and mystery.

Makeup: 50 professional makeup artists from Guerlain and StudioMakeUp are on hand to work their magic on the participants. A bit of blush, a dab of lipstick and lots of dramatic color above her eyebrows completely transformed this young woman.

Hair: Eric Bachelet, an Ambassador for L'Oreal Professional and a celebrity hair stylist who travels between Paris and Los Angeles, was one of the 50 talented hairstylists teasing the tresses of the participants. If Eric looks familiar, it's because he also made an appearance in my post about Fashion Night Out in Paris.

Lunchtime: Even models get hungry and need to eat! Lunch was a sandwich, cake and a bottle of water.

Training: If you ever thought that it's easy to be a runway model, think again. Fortunately, the participants were in the competent hands of Ludmila Mikhailova, the owner of Trend and Tendance, who is renowned for coaching successful models. Microphone in hand, she instructed the participants to walk to the rhythm of the music, take large steps and keep their eyes on the horizon rather than the photographers or their friends. But most importantly, Ludmila stressed that each of models were stars even as she encouraged the men to stride not swagger down the runway. 

4:00 pm: With only three more hours to go, the 400 participants are assembled and put in the order that they will appear on stage.

5:00 pm: Stomachs churning and feeling slightly nervous, models gather in the lobby of the Hotel Salomon de Rothschild as groups are called to board the buses that will take them to Galeries Lafayette.

Bus ride: The atmosphere is solemn as the participants snap photos of each other with their cell phones and discuss the items in their goodie bags.

6:00 pm: A large crew is hard at work transforming Rue Gluck into a shimmering catwalk.

6:50 pm: Spectators gather in front of Galeries Lafayette to see the third edition of the World's Largest Fashion Show.

Almost 7:00 pm: Stars and fashion industry professionals are in prime positions to admire the models as they strut their stuff.

7:00 pm: Showtime. Congratulations to all of the models. Each and every one of you shone like stars last night! 

Many thanks to Galeries Lafayette for allowing me to take behind-the-scenes photos. Your entire team was warm and welcoming. 

In tomorrow's post, I'll introduce you to a couple of the models whom I met. In the meantime, I'll upload some more photos in an album on Out and About's facebook page.

All too soon, the magical day was over. It vanished like the hairspray that the stylists spritzed in the air when they made their appearance on stage at the end of the show.