Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fashion Show at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris Features Edible Haute Couture!

Cécile Belin in "Les Oursons à Rio" created by Marianne Galland (MJM Graphic Design) and Cémoi.

The 18th annual Salon du Chocolat opened on a very sweet note in Paris last night when fashion designers and chocolatiers joined forces to transport the wildly enthusiastic audience to the exotic lands of Mexico, Asia, India, Africa, Brazil and into the far reaches of outerspace. Inspired by the theme, "The New World's of Chocolate", there were some exquisite culinary masterpieces, including a Carnival creation with diaphanous wings sprinkled with chocolate truffles, a Mayan costume adorned with gold leaf chocolate medallions and a finely detailed kimono sprinkled with delicate chocolate flowers.

British singer Tara McDonald in "Theia", created by Valérie Pache and Stéphane Bonnat.

While the aroma of chocolate wafted enticingly through the air, celebrity models strutted their stuff on the runway and students of the Académie Internationale de Comédie Musicale performed dance routines to introduce each of the featured countries. As promised, the show finished with a spectacular climax, a rousing performance of "Give Me More" by English songwriter and vocalist Tara McDonald. If you think that sashaying around on stage is hard, try singing a steamy song in a dress that is made out of chocolate!

Visitors to the Salon du Chocolat are invited to watch the dazzling Chocolate Fashion Show daily at 5:00 pm. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis so be sure to grab a spot as early as possible. Not surprisingly, there's a big demand for seats because everyone wants to see this show! The chocolate dresses are on display in the hall both before and after they appear on the catwalk. It's a great opportunity to study the details and to take photos.

Please click here to see the Chocolate Fashion Show album on Facebook.

In a tribute to Korea, South Korean actress Kim Yoo Jung traveled especially to Paris to appear in this superbly crafted traditional dress.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tips for visiting Venice during Acqua Alta ("high waters")

Now that my feet are dry and I have access to a reliable internet connection, I've thought of a couple of tips in case you're ever on holiday in Venice during acqua alta ("high waters").

Fashion: Whether you're a hairstylist working in a flooded salon or a couple of hipsters, Wellies are a must-have item when water from the Adriatic Sea flows into the streets of Venice. This new trend has reportedly spread to France because alert fashionistas spotted a large number of people wearing rubber boots as they disembarked from an EasyJet flight arriving at Paris Orly Airport late last night.

Dining: With great people watching opportunities and live music, the restaurants at the Piazza St Marco are always a popular choice. Just be sure to ask for a seat in the "water free" section.

It's also helpful to know that it's illegal to eat gelati, pizza and bag lunches on the steps around the square. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the city's director general wants to avoid a situation where the 25 million tourists who visit the Piazza St. Marco every year have to manoever their way around other people snacking on salami sandwiches.

Activities for newlyweds: Removing each other's boots to drain the water out of them is much more romantic than a gondola ride! This couple had such a good time that they even asked a passerby to take their photo as they reenacted all of the tugging and pulling.

Language: It helps to know some basic words in Italian, like "avanzi", which I'm fairly sure means "Do you think I'm standing in this cold water and tooting my whistle at you for no reason? Stop taking photos and move along before I arrest you!"

It's advisable, however, to use your limited Italian with caution. Otherwise, you may give waiters the false impression that you're fluent in their language. Much to my amusement, that's exactly what happened to Stephane when he used his very basic Italian to ask a question about a dish on the menu. When the waiter launched into a lengthy explanation complete with lots of dramatic hand gestures, my poor husband looked like a startled deer caught in some very bright headlights. Hoping that I would be able to throw him a lifeline, he shot me a desperate look and admitted in English, "I didn't understand anything he said! Did you?" With tears of laughter streaming down my face, I couldn't resist asking, "What do you think? That I suddenly learned Italian by osmosis while you were sleeping?" Even though the waiter switched to impeccable English, I'm fairly sure that he appreciated Stephane's efforts. I know that I did!

Please click here if you would like to see some more photos of the flooding in Venice.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday's picture and a Song: Venice is flooded!

Some people take Murano glass or leather handbags home from Venice. Not me. I'll be stuffing a pair of green rubber boots into my carry-on suitcase. Thanks to an exceptionally high tide, the wind and the moon, the city is flooded. Feeling like little kids after the first snowfall of the season, Stephane and I wisely bought some boots from our hotel before going out to play yesterday. Other people were wading around in garbage bags tied over their shoes, hotel slippers and bare feet.

It seems that extreme weather is also wreaking havoc along the East coast of the United States because I keep receiving warnings from our neighborhood association in Annapolis about Hurricane Sandy. As it's bearing down on our house, they suggest that we pick up some sandbags and prepare for flooding. But what can we do, we're already under water in Venice!

When I asked our waiter and gondolier the name of their favorite Italian singer, they both said "Vasco Rossi". I don't think "Dillo Alla Luna" is his most famous song but since the moon controls the tides it seems like the perfect song for today...

Flooding requires drastic measures!
Flooding at Piazza St. Marco. Venice.
Please click here if you would like to see some more photos of the flood that I posted on Facebook.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Musings in Venice

Musings on Friday evening in Venice:

Is it possible to take too many photos of canals, gondolas and Venetian masks? So far, I’ve snapped a picture of just about every gondola I’ve seen … and there are a lot of gondolas in Venice! But at least it’s cheaper than riding in one. From the negotiations that I’ve overheard, the going price seems to be 80 euros ($103) per person.

I miss hearing the sounds of church bells in Paris, although I may change my mind when they start ringing early tomorrow morning.

Prosecco tastes even better when you’re sitting at a café next to a canal.

I love Italy. Why has it been 2 1/2 years since my last visit and why has it taken me so long to get to Venice?

Too bad I didn't bring my ragged copy of Shakespeare's A Merchant in Venice. I kept expecting to bump into Shylock at the Rialto today.

Time for dinner! Will it be pizza, pasta, fish or some local speciality?

Sorry that there aren't more photos in this post but the internet connection is really slow at my hotel. I'll try to upload some more later. Ciao!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A sneak peek at Natasha St-Pier's chocolate kimono crafted by Monsieur Chocolat

Chocolatiers Keiko Orihara and Jean-Marc Rué 

Situated on a quiet, tree-lined street in the 15th arrondissement, the boutique Monsieur Chocolat has been receiving a lot of attention ever since Canadian pop singer Natasha St-Pier decided to wear their creation in the Chocolate Fashion Show. With only one more week to go before the opening night of the Salon du Chocolat, I was grateful that chocolatiers Jean-Marc Rué and Keiko Orihara took some time out from their busy schedule to give me a sneak peek at the magnificent kimono designed to celebrate Asia in the extravaganza, "The New World's of Chocolate".

Trying rather unsuccessfully to ignore the irresistible aroma of cacao wafting through the air, I listened to Mr Rué describe the challenges of creating a dress made out of 60% chocolate as Mme Orihara used white chocolate to meticulously glue the delicate flowers to the sleeve of the kimono. According to Mr. Rué, the secret to making a dress that doesn't melt is to keep the chocolate well-insulated from the skin. He claims to have learned that lesson the hard way when his chocolate chef-d'œuvre started to dissolve during what he says was the worst night of his life in 2005. To keep the kimono intact while Natasha St-Pier waits backstage, Mr. Rue will have to continuously spritz it with a culinary cooling spray.

When asked why they participate in the Chocolate Fashion Show, both Mme Orihara and Mr. Rué smiled with enthusiasm as he explained that they relish the challenge of working with a fashion designer to create a couture masterpiece. Ideally, the artists draw inspiration from one another as they discover ways to overcome the restrictions of each other's craft. As an example, Mr Rue told me that his biggest concern this year is that the chocolate will melt and indelibly stain the cream colored cloth selected by fashion designer Karyne Lauhon. When I replied that it hadn't even occurred to me how difficult it would be to work with white rather than brown fabric, he revealed that this sort of challenge arises when collaborating with artists from other domains. It's the synergy of couture and chocolate, however, that also allows them to produce something truly spectacular.

On the day of the show, hairstylist Fabien Provost will arrange Natasha St-Pier's hair in an updo held in place with chocolate chopsticks. In addition to wearing the elegant kimono with an impressive butterfly bow at the back, the French Canadian singing star will carry a chocolate parasol and fan expertly crafted by Mr. Rué and Mme Orihara.

Thanks to the warm reception that I received by the two chocolatiers at Monsieur Chocolat, I'll be holding my breathe and hoping that their magnificent kimono stays intact during the opening night Chocolate Fashion Show on October 30. From October 31 to November 4, professional models will wear the chocolate dresses during the daily fashion shows at 5:00 pm.

Monsieur Chocolat
102 rue Cambronne
Paris 75015

Please click here to see more photos of the kimono on "Out and About's" Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Hope Springs" and "How the French Invented Love"

"Who in here is not having sex?"

Kay [referring to her non-existent sex life with her husband]: He is everything. But I'm... I'm really lonely. And to be with someone, when you're not really with him can... it's... I think I might be less lonely... alone. (From the movie "Hope Springs")

Early on in "How the French Invented Love," Marilyn Yalom cites a poll of older French and American adults, who are asked whether "true love can exist without a radiant sex life." Some 83% of Americans said it could. Only 34% of French respondents said so. (Excerpt from Pamela Druckerman's review of  "How the French Invented Love")

While watching the recently released Meryl Streep movie about a middle-aged couple who go to an intensive week long marriage counseling session in a small town in Maine because they've grown apart and are sleeping in separate bedrooms, I felt like an anthropologist "fly on the wall" observing the audience's reaction to every day life in the United States. When the Parisians chuckled at the sight of Streep's character, Kay, preparing what appeared to be exactly the same strip of bacon and egg day after day for her husband, played by Tommy Lee Jones, I could feel them thinking that Kay and Arnold's marriage would have been better if they started their day with croissants and coffee. From the thoughtful silences that accompanied Kay and Arnold's emotional discussions with therapist Dr. Feld, brilliantly portrayed by Steve Carrell, it was obvious that there are marriages on both sides of the Atlantic that are devoid of intimacy and passion. But it's only after Kay and Arnold, huddled on opposite ends of the couch in Dr. Feld's office, reveal that they haven't had sex in the missionary or any other position for more than five years that I noticed some of the French people shaking their heads in stunned disbelief.

Grateful that Stéphane and I watched "Hope Springs" together but wishing that I would have had the opportunity to see it with a French friend with whom I could analyse the cultural differences, I was thankful to receive a tweet from BostonZest calling my attention to Pamela Druckermann's book review of "How the French Invented Love" in the Wall Street Journal because the second paragraph perfectly explains why the Parisians were shocked: In France, Ms. Yalom concludes, sexual desire isn't optional. "A Frenchman or woman without desire is considered defective, like someone missing the sense of taste or smell," she explains. And where we Americans expect adults to control their urges, the French treat passion as "an irresistible fate against which it is useless to rebel."

Walking home from the cinema, Stéphane and I both said that we mistakenly thought that "Hope Springs" would be a light-hearted comedy. It's not. It's a touching true-to-life portrayal of how people can grow apart and unintentionally hurt the ones they love. It's also a reminder that good marriages require work, lots of it. The article about "How the French Invented Love" adds an interesting new dimension to the film, one that I look forward to discussing with Stéphane when we're together in Venice this weekend. Thanks to a transportation strike, he's currently stuck in a plane sitting on the runway at Paris Orly Airport. Ahh, the French. You've gotta love them!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday's Picture and a Song: 2012 U.S. Presidential Straw Vote at Harry's Bar in Paris

Bonjour! The utterance of this simple greeting is all that it usually takes for French people to know that I'm not one of them. In fact, I've gotten so used to everyone immediately identifying my accent that I was completely caught off guard last night when the waiter at Harry's Bar told me in no uncertain terms that only Americans are allowed to participate in the legendary U.S. Presidential Straw Vote. Baffled by his response, I replied, "Mais, je suis Americaine" to which he retorted that he would need to see official proof of my nationality. After telling Stephane that I really thought that my accent would be all the evidence that they would need, I started flipping through the cards in my wallet: French driver's license, Swiss identity card, museum memberships, American Library card - nope, nothing that shows that I was born in the USA.

Americans, who plan ahead and take their passports with them to Harry's Bar, are given a slip of paper on which to cast their ballot. The votes are meticulously counted every evening and a running total is printed on the mirror behind the bar. On November 3, the final results will be made public. At the moment, the 2012 Presidential election has split the clientele of Harry's Bar down the middle with 76 votes cast for Obama/Biden and 74 for Romney/Ryan. Most remarkably, the straw vote at Harry's Bar has accurately predicted the results of 23 out of 25 elections during the past 87 years.

Open seven nights a week, I'm happy to have a legitimate reason to return to Harry's Bar to cast my vote prior to November 3. While I'm there, I may order a specially created Obama, Romney, Biden, or Ryan drink or one of their other original creations, like a Bloody Mary, French 75, Side Car or The Monkey Gland. Just in case the waiter doesn't pick up on my accent, I'll be sure to have my blue passport with me!

By all accounts, it seems that Harry's Bar is THE place to be on election night.

5 rue Daunou (pronounced SANK ROO DOE NOO)
75002 PARIS

I go out most nights
Attracted by the lights
Listen to the jazz in Harry's Bar...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Help! Why have my photos been replaced with exclamation points?

This blog is currently experiencing technical difficulties.

Bloggers beware! This exclamation point is what readers of your old blog posts may see instead of photos. At least, that's what I learned when someone sent an email saying that many of my older posts are full of these rather alarming black and white graphics that make my blog look like it's full of toxic waste.

To see what I mean, please click here to view my post about the Japanese restaurant, Kunitoraya. Instead of bowls full of steaming udon soup, the interior of the restaurant and the friendly Japanese chefs, there are only lots of exclamation marks and text. What happened to the photos?

Thinking of all the time that I've spent selecting pictures and uploading them, I quickly made sure that my blogger account was up-to-date with the correct card card details to cover my photo storage. After confirming that my account was in order, I searched for the contact information for Google. Instead of a telephone number or an email address for customer service, Google lovingly suggests that I post any questions concerning my blogger account on the message boards where another blogger will (hopefully) assist me. What a joke! From what I've learned from reading other posts, this is an issue with broken links. I can't fix that on my own.  It would mean reloading all of the photos and incurring additional charges for storage.

Has anyone else had this happen?
Do you know how I can contact someone at Google/Blogger?
Any other advice before I start taking my frustration out on my laptop?

I'm a very unhappy blogger today! And to make matters worse, it's Paris.

Edit: Thanks to all the help that I've received via Twitter, facebook and comments, I figured out that one of my Picasa albums, which is where blogger stores photos, has mysteriously been deleted. I don't know why. I don't know how. All I know is that it impacts my December 2011 posts. The good news is that this incident has pushed me to make the move to my own domain. If anyone has any tips, please let me know.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friendship and tea for ten at the Savoy in London

Thames Foyer at The Savoy Hotel, London.

For more than a quarter of a century, Heidi and I have been friends. We've welcomed each other's children into the world and consoled each other after the deaths of our parents. We've shared our hopes and our dreams, as well as our fears. We've often lived thousands of miles apart but have always felt close to each other. We started out as colleagues and ended up as friends. And it all began with afternoon tea at the Ritz in London.

Heidi's interpretation of the story is that her "crazy American" co-worker forced her to go to the swanky hotel even though she felt that her relaxed weekend attire was too casual for the opulent surroundings. My version is that I wasn't going to let a small matter like a dress code stand in the way of having traditional tea at the spectacular Palm Court. After all, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" has long been my motto. When the maître d'hôtel graciously granted our request for a table on the condition that Heidi keep her jeans hidden under the tablecloth, we spent an unforgettable Sunday afternoon sipping tea, eating scones and laughing about our adventure as co-conspirators. And that's what we've been doing ever since...

When Heidi recently told me that she had organized a trip to London for her English students, I booked a ticket on the Eurostar so that I could join them for tea at The Savoy on Wednesday afternoon. As the group marveled at the glass cupola of the Thames Foyer while listening to the classical music played by the hotel's resident pianist, Heidi helped everyone decide between the traditional tea with scones and clotted cream or salmon and scrambled eggs. Living up to my reputation as the "crazy American", I not-so-discretely flipped over my plate to confirm that it was Wedgwood china for Joseph the Butler and took lots of photos of the tea stands laden with dainty finger sandwiches and French pastries. Meanwhile, Heidi attempted to maintain some sense of decorum at our table of ten by not hiding her fashionable trousers under the tablecloth.

One of the most important things that I've learned from Heidi is that it's always worth the effort to spend time with friends, especially if there are delectable treats at the end of the journey. And if you ever have the occasion to take the Eurostar from Paris to London for the day, do it!

The Savoy Hotel

I decided to have Oriental Beauty Tea after our waiter told us that it's what the Queen prefers to drink in the afternoon.

Official video featuring Afternoon Tea at The Savoy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

100 Years Under the Dome at Galeries Lafayette: "Chrysalide" Lights up the Night!

It felt as if Christmas came early to Paris last night when Galeries Lafayette illuminated the facade of their historic flagship store on Boulevard Haussmann to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of their iconic stained-glass Dome. Designed by architect Ferdinand Chanut and glass artist Jacques Gruber in 1912, the Dome is 43 meters (141 ft) high and equipped with a pulley that has been used to elevate the store's Christmas tree and many other objects over the years. It even held an airplane aloft in 1949!

For the centenary of the Dome, French conceptual artist Yann Kersalé has covered Galeries Lafayette in a skin so sensitive that each variation in the store’s activities set off a shimmer of light. Enveloping the building like a cocoon, Chrysalide will change with the seasons and remain illuminated throughout the year.

Why are all of these VIPs, including Yann Kersalé, gazing upwards?

One of my favorite things to do with first time visitors to Paris is to take them inside Galeries Lafayette and tell them to look up. Now it's going to be even more fun to watch their reactions because the Dome echoes the exterior lights and changes color. Craning my neck backwards along with everyone else, I couldn't decide if I preferred the green, blue, red or purple highlights last night. While you're trying to determine which color you like the best, be sure to notice the recently renovated Majorelle balconies.

To commemorate the centenary, the department store has published Les Galeries Lafayette, 100 ans sous la Coupole (100 Years Under the Dome at Galeries Lafayette), a book that recounts the history of the Dome's construction and shows how this legendary site created a stage for fashion in the heart of Paris. Additionally, the current exhibition, "Chronicle of a Creative Itinerary" illustrates how culture and shopping have co-existed at Galeries Lafayette since 1912. Located on the first floor near Angelina's Cafe, the free exhibition runs until January 26, 2013.

If you would like to see additional photos of the Dome, please click here to view the album that I posted on Facebook.

The 100 year old Dome at Galeries Lafayette shimmering in all of its glory!

Monday, October 15, 2012

It pays to be a friend!

(Friday afternoon) 

It's less than an hour until my father-in-law's train pulls into Gare de Lyon and I'm in a panic. It's not that the apartment is a mess or that we don't have any food, it's that the elevator is broken. Climbing the stairs to reach our fifth floor apartment is going to be a real challenge for Werner and his friend, especially after ...

Cue ringing sound of an incoming call on Skype followed by my son's voice as he excitedly reveals the news that his girlfriend has booked her plane ticket to come to Paris for the very first time in December. Put unfinished blog post aside for another day.

(Another day, aka Monday morning)

We made it! That's the first thought that came to mind as I watched the almost unrecognizable golden globe of the sun peeping over the horizon this morning. The elevator is still broken, which meant many slow treks up and down the spiral staircase interspersed with huffing, puffing and jokes about heart attacks, but the torrential downpour has finally stopped. Thank goodness because the rain proved to be as much, if not more, of a challenge for my 81 year old father-in-law and Mercedes than the stairs.

The good news is that we could bypass the long lines of people huddling under their umbrellas in front of the Musée d'Orsay on Saturday afternoon because I'm a friend, "une amie", of the museum. In fact, some of my best friends in Paris are museums, or at least that's what you would think if you opened my wallet because it's stuffed full of cards for the Louvre, Versailles, Musées des Arts Décoratifs and Vaux le Vicomte.

All that it took for the Musée d'Orsay to call me its friend was a completed application form and €58*. In return, an invitee of my choice and I have unlimited access through a reserved entrance for the permanent collections and temporary exhibitions for an entire year. Additionally, I receive reduced rates on guided tours and concerts and discounts in the gift shop and restaurants. If you're under 35, a solo card is €25 and a duo membership is €40. Since many museum memberships are tax deductible, there's a good chance that you'll actually end up saving money. Just be sure to keep your receipts!

Stephane and I will definitely return to the "Impressionism and Fashion" exhibition a couple of more times before it travels to the United States in 2013. Not only is there too much to absorb during one visit to this fascinating exhibition curated jointly by the Musée d'Orsay, Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, but it's also a unique opportunity to see Gustave Caillebotte's "A Rainy Day" and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s "Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children" while these paintings are exceptionally in Paris. As regular admission to the museum and the exhibition is €12, or €24 for two, we're almost halfway to recovering our initial costs.

*My "Carte Blanche Duo" was €58 rather than €70 because of a partner reduction since I'm also a friend of the Louvre.

Gustave Caillebotte's "A Rainy Day". The Art Institute of Chicago.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday's picture and a Song - Debussy for daydreaming

The Sacré-Cœur Basilica as seen through one of the clocks at the Musée d'Orsay. 

Gazing at the grey sky and rain streaming down the window, I'm dreaming of polka dotted dresses, shiny top hats and perpetual summer afternoons after seeing the "Impressionism and Fashion" exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay. Here's a bit of Debussy for daydreaming about whatever strikes your fancy.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend! I'll be back tomorrow with a regular post.

Close-up view of Sacré-Cœur Basilica from the Musée d'Orsay
 Reflections or reality? Tuileries Garden.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Help stop discrimination against ugly vegetables - "Feeding the 5000" in Paris!

"I may not be beautiful but I'm delicious!" Would you buy this malformed eggplant?

In spite of our best intentions, something happens when we're in the produce section of the grocery store. Like Snow White in a daze, we automatically reach towards the perfect apple, the one with the flawless red skin and sublime curves. Consequently, Western countries throw out nearly half of their food not because it's inedible -- but because it's not pleasing to our eyes.

To call attention to this scandalous waste, the French television channel Canal+ and Englishman Tristram Stuart of "Feeding the 5000" invite you to a free lunch made out of wonky carrots, misshapen potatoes and other fresh surplus vegetables on Saturday, October 13. In addition to a giant vegetable curry, there will also be cooking lessons, music and freshly pressed apple juice.

If you're in Paris and would like to volunteer, please visit "Feeding the 5000's" Facebook page for additional information. Otherwise, please help by spreading the word about this very worthwhile event.

Fill bellies not bins. Stop discrimination against ugly vegetables!

Feeding the 5000
October 13 at 1:00 pm
Place de l'Hôtel de Ville

In this TED video, Tristram Stuart sounds the warning bell on global food waste, calling for us to change the systems whereby large quantities of produce and other foods end up in trash heaps.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"The Chocolate Connoisseur" and "gâté comme des filles" chocolates

After attending the "Chocolate and Tea Event" at Shakespeare & Company yesterday evening, I dropped a bombshell on Stéphane that shook the very foundation of our marriage. For more than twenty years, our relationship has been built on the belief that he comes from a small European country renowned for its delectable truffles and pralines, while I come from a large country ruled by Mars Bars and Snickers. Needless to say, when Chloe Doutre-Roussel, the author of The Chocolate Connoisseur, declared that the "bean to bar" movement in the United States is producing some of the best chocolate that she has ever tasted, I couldn't wait to rush home and share this earth shattering news with Stéphane. The world as we knew it had ceased to exist!

Bursting through the front door of our apartment, I breathlessly declared, "The chocolate expert said that one of the main reasons that Swiss chocolate is still considered so important doesn't necessarily have to do with taste. It has to do with history! It's because the Swiss industrialized the production of chocolate with the invention of conching." Stéphane, who's understandably proud of his country's mik chocolate heritage, narrowed his eyes while carefully considering the French author's words. It's alright, I assured him. Chloe also said that the Belgians don't make the best chocolate either.

As Stéphane attempted to digest all of this revolutionary information, I added that most of the French chocolatiers are men, who make masculine chocolate, which probably explains why I don't particularly like Patrick Roger's creations. Raving about the smoothness of the gâté comme des filles ("spoiled like girls") ganache that we sampled, I opened a bright pink box filled with sparkly treasures. With his eye firmly fixed on the praline decorated with a walnut, he asked if he could try one of these more feminine chocolates created by Alexandra, the American founder who trained at Corden Bleu in Paris and worked as a pastry cook at Chez Panisse in San Francisco. After popping it in his mouth, the last thing that I heard about chocolate were his sighs of satisfaction.

With the Salon du Chocolat fast approaching at the end of the month, I plan to study The Chocolate Connoisseur  in order to be more fully prepared for the world's largest event dedicated to chocolate. After all, it appears that many Americans are on the cutting edge of this irresistible delicacy and I don't want to be left behind! Chloe Doutre-Roussel also offers chocolate classes and tours in Paris. Please visit her website for additional information.

If you live in the USA, here are some of the American chocolates recommended by Chloe: Rogue Chocolatier in Massachusetts, Ritual Chocolate in Colorado, Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco, Patric Chocolates in Missouri and Fresco Chocolate in Washington.

The Salon du Chocolat is from October 31 to November 4, 2012.

Alexandra, the founder of gâté comme des filles, and author Chloe Doutre-Roussel at Shakespeare and Company.

Monday, October 8, 2012

"Chasing Sylvia Beach" with author Cynthia Morris

It's another rainy Monday in Paris. In between wondering when they're going to turn on the heat in our apartment building and trying to convince myself that it's time to take our summer clothes to the cellar, I've been thinking about Shakespeare & Company and Sylvia Beach.

While most visitors to Paris are familiar with the iconic English bookstore located near Notre-Dame, not everyone knows that it was originally opened by Sylvia Beach on November 17, 1919. After a brief introduction to Beach during a "Writers of the Left Bank" walking tour, I wanted to learn more about this American expat who generously offered hospitality and encouragement to struggling authors. Good things must come to those who wait and incessantly scroll through their Twitter feed because that's how I discovered that Cynthia Morris, the author of the novel Chasing Sylvia Beach, was offering a free Sylvia Beach walking tour of Paris last Friday. In spite of a two hour dental appointment to replace some fillings in the morning, I pushed myself to meet Cynthia by the statue of Henri IV on Pont Neuf in the afternoon. I wasn't disappointed.

As the sun cast a rosy glow over the buildings lining the Seine, Morris explained her long fascination with Sylvia Beach, who was "curious, brave, and above all, devoted to books and people who write them." Resolute in her desire to introduce more women to this literary pioneer, Morris obtained a grant from the Alliance Française to study Beach's private letters at the archives in Princeton University. Unable to find the secret that would shed new light on the woman who lived life as a daring adventure,  Morris decided to change course and write a historical novel.

Pausing in front of Le Danton, a charming cafe perfectly situated at the confluence of five roads near the Odeon metro stop, Morris mentioned the challenges of writing a novel set in 1937, for it's only by entering some sort of dream state where the writing process becomes almost mystical that an author is able to fully capture the essence of the past. The people coming and going, the buses and the streets - they all have to be true to the period. After we made our way to the building where Shakespeare & Company was previously located at 12 Rue de l'Odéon, the author enthusiastically pointed to the wooden front of the  Librairie Guénégaud next door and exclaimed, "There. That's what Sylvia's bookshop would have looked like!"

If you would like for Cynthia Morris to transport you back to the days of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, pick up a copy of Chasing Sylvia Beach. Many thanks to Cynthia for a very educational tour!

Time for me to run because I'm going to a chocolate talk and tasting at Shakespeare & Company this evening. In a time honored tradition, they still host author events just as Sylvia Beach did when she opened the beloved English bookshop in Paris.

Please click here to read more about Chasing Sylvia Beach on Amazon. The 21 customer reviews are all 4 and 5 stars.

Plaque at 12 Rue de l'Odéon. "In 1922. In this house. Mlle Sylvia Beach published "Ulysses" by James Joyce."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday's picture and a song: All Night Long - Nuit Blanche in Paris!

"All Night Long" is the song that kept playing in my head as Stéphane and I experienced our first "Nuit Blanche" ("Sleepless Night") in Paris. The theme "Between the Sky and the Seine" was highly appropriate for the 11th edition of this celebration of contemporary art because the sky, or the rain falling from it, played a major role in the evening. Additionally, the organizers of Nuit Blanche promised to get visitors "high" by giving them access to fifteen unobstructed viewpoints along the river that are normally closed to the public.

After studying the "Nuit Blanche" app that divided the city into three zones, Stéphane and I decided to concentrate on the events in the Western arrondissements and headed towards the Guimet Museum. Thinking that most people would prefer to stay inside on such a rainy night, we were surprised to see a long line of art enthusiasts huddled under umbrellas.

While many people used the late night opening to view one of the largest collections of Asian art outside of Asia, Stéphane and I made a beeline to what we thought was the terrace on the top floor hoping to have an exceptional view of the Eiffel Tower. After waiting and wondering why the line wasn't moving, one of the staff members gave an incomprehensible explanation that completely baffled me and all of the Francophones, including Stéphane. Not quite sure what was at the top of the steps, Stéphane and I decided to wait...and wait. Finally, it was our turn. Confused as to why we had to remove our shoes when we thought that we were going to the terrace, we were surprised to stumble into a room with a subdued performance. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that we only stayed the length of time that it took me to snap a photo before Stéphane bolted out the door.

Slightly disappointed, Stéphane and I headed back out into the rain. Seeing the long line in front of the recently reopened Palais de Tokyo, we changed our itinerary and walked across the river to the Quai Branly Museum. After waiting in another line and walking up 136 steps, we were treated to a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower from the terrace.

Deciding to visit one more place before stopping for a midnight snack, we changed our plans once again when we saw the long line in front of the Grand Palais. While we dried off over steak tartare and cheese at the Mini-Palais, Stéphane and I reviewed the evening and discussed what we'll do differently next year. Rather than relying on an app that isn't user friendly, we'll pick up one of the detailed brochures from the mayor's office. We also thought that instead of staying up late that we may get up early because many of the events last until 7:00 am. And the very first thing that we'll do is hope that it doesn't rain!

On a more positive note, it was a really good night for photos of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. Click here to see the album that I posted on Facebook.

Friday, October 5, 2012

True or False: Is there a waiting list for a "Birkin" bag? Behind-the-scenes tour at Hermès.

The distinctive orange Hermès box that we all know and love resulted from a pigmentation problem during WWII. The original color was champagne. 

Designer shoes, jewelry or handbags - I can easily resist their siren's call.  But wave a colorful Hermès scarf in front of my eyes and I'm like a bull in a ring, you've got my undivided attention. It's the one luxury item that I've allowed myself to buy in Paris. In an effort to justify my purchases, I've convinced myself that I would look rather pretentious walking around a small Swiss town in a pair of red-soled Louboutins, whereas I'll still be able to wear an Hermès scarf when we're transferred to a new destination. Let's just hope that it's not somewhere tropical!

After missing the tour of Hermès with the American Women's Group in January, I was pleased when WICE proposed an exclusive visit for ten lucky members. Shortly before the store on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré opened on Tuesday morning, our group was ushered inside by Michel, the man who normally receives VIP shoppers like kings, princesses and Kim Kardashian (his words, not mine!). If it doesn't seem like a big deal that we were allowed to enter the store outside its regular hours, tell that to Madonna because Hermès denied her request for a private opening at 11:30 pm when she was in Paris for a concert last July. But Madonna isn't alone. The store doesn't give special privileges to anyone, including the former President of France Nicholas Sarkozy, who had to shop from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm just like everyone else.

According to Michel, Hermès egalitarian approach occasionally leads to some interesting experiences for mere mortals. While we were standing near the scarf counter, he regaled us with the tale of a woman who couldn't make up her mind between two carrés. For thirty minutes, she vacillated between a blue and a red one while the sales assistant did her best to patiently offer advice. Suddenly, a distinctive voice said, "Take the red scarf. It's looks the best on you." Turning to thank the man, she found herself gazing into the eyes of American actor Bruce Willis. Guess which scarf she bought?

As we walked passed the main entrance, we noticed a line forming in front of the signature doors. On a regular day, the flagship store welcomes 1,600 eager shoppers. The number increases to 4,000 prior to Christmas. While many of the customers purchase jewelry, porcelain or ready-to-wear items, leather goods account for 50% of the sales. Even though most people associate Hermès with the iconic "Birkin" and "Kelly" bags, the company originally made saddles. Famous orders have included one for Ronald Reagan with two R's and another encrusted with diamonds and emeralds for a sheik. President Sarkozy also gave one as a present to President Bush.

Knowing that many women are desperate to get their hands on an elusive "Birkin" bag, I asked Michel about the infamous 2-3 year wait list. According to him, it's just an urban legend, at least in France. He assured me that the only way to purchase a Birkin is to show up at the flagship store first thing in the morning because they will sell a bag as soon as one becomes available. The only problem is that no one, including Michel, is able to predict when that will be. If you ever spot a crocodile slithering through a swamp in Mississippi, there's a good chance that it will be a  Birkin bag or a 70,000 euro jacket in the future because that's the source of most of their skins.

For women who find it too stressful to decide between a piece of jewelry and a handbag, Hermès recently launched four different models of bags made of gold encrusted with diamonds and gemstones. At 1.5 million euros, Hermès has taken luxury to an entirely new level. As one of the women on our tour commented, it's not the kind of bag that you would want to forget in the back seat of a taxi! Of course, if you were carrying such an expensive item, you would probably have two bodyguards by your side at all times. It's definitely not a bag for me since I almost always travel by metro!

If you would like to buy a vintage Birkin bag or Hermès scarf, be sure to attend the Hermès auction at Artcurial on October 30, 2012. If you live abroad, you can participate in the auction online. Click here to read my post, "Trying to keep my paddle down at the annual vintage Hermès auction in Paris".

Other posts about Hermès: How to save money in Paris - go to the Hermès sale and Hermès, a tour of the special order workshops with photos by Kate of "Mais Oui Paris".

Kelly Sac Bijou in rose gold and diamonds 1,160 diamonds (Total carat weight: 33.94). Price 1.5 million euros.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Looking back at the internet and forward at Facebook.

I'm not the only one who dashes across the street in high heels!

I feel old. In fact, I feel really old. And my feet and back hurt, probably from sprinting across Place de la Concorde in high heels to avoid being late for a behind-the-scenes tour of Hermes on Monday. Rather than arriving on time, I surprised the receptionist by turning up one day too early. While I would like to blame my mistake on enthusiasm, it's because my brain is frazzled. I suspect that it has something to do with an overdose of social media and lack of sleep. Oblivious to the amount of time that I've been spending online, I was confronted with reality when Sylvia sent a text message inquiring if I was ill because she hadn't seen any tweets or activity on Facebook yesterday. Talk about a wake-up call!

Long gone are the days when I had to make an appointment with the overseas telephone operator in the Philippines to place a call to my mother in the United States. Perhaps that's another one of the reasons why I feel so old. I can remember the days before the internet made communication instantaneous and easy.  When we lived in Indonesia, all of the parents with children at the international school were invited to attend a special meeting to educate us about a new fangled invention called the World Wide Web. With a series of slides and numerous handouts, the superintendent attempted to assuage our fears by assuring us that our children would only be allowed to use the internet in the school's library after they had received signed permission forms from us. Worried about this mysterious new technological innovation, I remember parents chatting after the meeting about the drastic impact that the internet might have on our children's education. What we didn't discuss is how it would change our lives.

When we learned that we were being transferred to Port of Spain, half a world away from where we lived in Indonesia, I was astounded by the amount of information that I could find by simply typing "Trinidad" in the search field. One thing led to another and before I knew it, my mind was in the West Indies while my body was still in Surabaya. Online newspapers kept me updated on the latest happenings while other websites taught me about foreign foods, like Callaloo, Buss-up-Shot and Bake and Shark, that I would encounter. I felt as if we had moved to a new land before I even set foot on the plane.

Fast forward to Paris where I'm blogging, tweeting and have recently ventured into what was previously my children's domain, Facebook. Ever since I discovered the flexibility of FB, I've been blogging less because I really like that FB allows me to post information about upcoming events in Paris and photo albums. If you haven't seen Out and About's page yet, please take a look. And best of all, you don't need to have a Facebook account to view it. It's how Stephane followed my progress while I rode in the Paris-Deauville Rally last week.

Click here to visit Out and About in Paris on Facebook.

On a completely different topic, Stephane and I will be making weekend trips to Bordeaux/Dordogne and Venice this month. Please let me know if you have any tips for places that we should visit, restaurants that we have to try and/or castles that we shouldn't miss.