Thursday, November 29, 2012

Day four of the 20 day cure

Part of the cure includes mixing the contents of one these ampules with water and drinking it once a day.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when my stomach began growing at an alarming rate, expanding beyond what I would have thought was physically possible. Knowing that I couldn't be pregnant because Stéphane had taken steps (snip, snip) many years ago to ensure that we wouldn't have more than two children, I didn't know what was going on. All I knew was that my stomach hurt like hell. I couldn't sleep, I didn't want to eat, I was burping like I had just guzzled a 6-pack of beer and, worst of all, I had gas (my apologies for being so indelicate, but there's not another way to say it!).

So, I gathered up my courage and did what you have to do in these situations in Paris. I went to the local pharmacy to ask for advice. Trying to appear nonchalant as I scanned the three employees to decide which one to approach, I rejected the man at the front of the store because there was a cluster of customers gathered around him. The last thing that I wanted was an audience listening to my tale of woe and offering advice. Deciding that the two women at the back looked like my best option, I quietly asked what they recommended for indigestion. After carefully surveying me from head to toe, one of the women asked if my stomach was swollen, like a balloon. "Oui!" I replied, while thinking that it actually felt more like an overinflated basketball, but who was I to quibble about medical metaphors with a professional. "And there's gas," I whispered. "Then you must do a twenty day cure" she declared. "No raw fruit or vegetables, no milk, no cheese, nothing with dairy."

Worried that she had mistakenly thought that I was lactose intolerant, I explained that I've never had any problems digesting milk products and added, almost as an afterthought, that my stomach issues had mysteriously started after a recent gastronomic weekend in Bordeaux. "Mais oui! That explains it!" the two women said in unison. Smiling at me as if I was innocent to the ways of the world, at least the one inhabited by French people, they repeated that the only solution was to do a cure. At this point, the man at the front of the store, who had obviously been eavesdropping, chimed in to say that coffee and wine were also strictly off limits. Mentally counting down the days until Stéphane's and my wedding anniversary and Christmas, I replied that the cure was starting to sound rather harsh. Cutting out raw veggies and cheese from my diet is one thing, but abstaining from wine and champagne during the holidays is entirely another matter. The women, acknowledging that I had a point, revised their stance and said, "Mais bien sûr you can have a glass of wine from time to time ... if it gives you pleasure!" And that, in a nutshell, is why I love the French.

The moral of the story is that moderation is the name of the game when you live in Paris. After surviving fiery hot nasi goreng merah in Indonesia, buss-up-shut in Trinidad and huge portions of sauerkraut and pork hocks in Germany, my stomach has finally met its match.

In my defense, it's pretty hard not to over-indulge when people keep offering you samples of wine in Bordeaux!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happy Holiday Giveaway!

Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock
Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring
Snowing and blowing up bushels of fun
Now the jingle hop has begun...

As you may have guessed by the introduction, I'm feeling in a festive mood tonight and I haven't even been hitting the eggnog. Christmas is just around the corner and thanks to Tempting Places Boutique Hotels, I have an exciting holiday giveaway for you. They've invited me and one of you to join a small group of women for a fun DIY Christmas Craft Party at the romantic Boutique Hotel Seven in the 5th arrondissement! Starting at 7:00 pm on December 6, we'll get an exclusive tour of the hotel before Do It Yvette provides us with all of the supplies to make our very own Christmas craft. It's going to be a lot of fun!

If you're in Paris on December 6 and would like to kick off the holiday season at Boutique Hotel Seven, please leave a short comment below prior to 6:00 am (Paris time) on Monday, December 3, 2012. I'll put the names on a slip of paper and ask Stéphane to pull one of them out of a hat, a bowl or whatever is handy. That's it. No gimmicks. I'm just really excited to be able to offer this to one of you.

Many thanks to Tempting Places Boutique Hotels and Do It Yvette for putting this special event together. I wonder if we'll get to see the "Lovez Vous" (above) or the "Sublime" Suite (below).

Update: Congratulations to Jacki (HJ Underway) for winning the Happy Holiday Giveaway!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Talents Boutiques - Handcrafted in France

Talents Opéra 

Is that a donkey in the window?

Even though I'm not much of a shopper, I must admit to getting a thrill when I discover something uniquely original, like the vast array of handcrafted items on display at Talents Boutiques. With one location near the Opera and another near Ternes metro in the 17th arrondissement, the two boutiques showcase the creations of more than 300 talented craftspeople belonging to the French Federation for Craft Professionals.

Talents Opéra 

Talents Opéra - With busy holiday shoppers rushing to and fro on the streets of Paris, this festively decorated concept store on Rue Scribe is a welcome haven of peace. Like a well-curated museum exhibition, its open spaces invite you to slow down and admire all of the unique handcrafted objects. Whimsical light fixtures cast a cheery glow on graceful silhouette vases, ceramic espresso cups that appear to have been made out of corrugated cardboard and fanciful jewelry. Whether you're looking for a sleek table for your Parisian apartment or a special gift for your favorite Francophile, Talents Opera is a must-visit boutique. And just in case you fall in love with an item that won't fit in your luggage, Talents helps visitors to Paris ship their larger purchases home.

Talents Opéra
1bis, rue Scribe, 75009 Paris
Open Monday to Saturday, 11 am - 7 pm

Talents Etoile - Even though I hadn't originally intended to visit both boutiques because I had thought that they were similar in style, I changed my mind when I learned that each store features uniquely different items. Looking on it as a good opportunity to explore an unknown part of town, I was surprised when the bus stopped right next to the boutique on Avenue Niel. The journey to the 17th arrondissement was much easier than I had expected! Like its sister store, Talents Etoile is full of extraordinary creations handcrafted in France. Additionally, customers can commission made-to-order objects. If you're looking for something truly special, put your imagination to work and design an original handcrafted item that celebrates what you like most about Paris.

Talents Etoile
26 avenue Niel, 75017 Paris
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 am - 2 pm and 3 pm to 7 pm

If you get hungry while you're in the neighborhood, the assistant manager of Talents suggested that I have lunch at La Table Verte, a vegetarian restaurant that serves quiches, salads, soups and gratins, located just a short distance away at 5 Rue Saussier Leroy. Combined with a stop at Talents Etoile, it made for a very enjoyable afternoon.

Please click here to view the Facebook album with additional photos of the exquisite items available at Talents Boutiques.
Talents Opéra 
Talents Opéra 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Move it!

Christmas is on its way. It's time to get moving! But I don't mean with your Christmas shopping, cards or holiday parties. Put all of that aside for an hour and jog on over to L'île aux Cygnes because the City of Paris has recently installed a free outdoor fitness center on the tip of the narrow tree-lined island. Complete with small climbing walls, ladders, suspension bikes and different machines to work your muscles, you can contemplate the Eiffel Tower and the boats on the Seine as you work off all the foie gras and champagne. Best of all, you can exercise whenever it suits your busy holiday schedule because the entire area is lit at night and protected from the rain by Pont de Grenelle. To avoid injury, be sure to read the instructions panels on each machine.

Located in the 15th and 16th arrondissements, visitors most frequently associate L'île aux Cygnes (Isle of the Swans) with the Statue of Liberty. Standing at the very tip of the island, she gazes westward towards her famous sibling in New York City and bears a tablet with the inscription IV Juillet 1776 = XIV Juillet 1789, in honor of the American Independence Day and Bastille Day, respectively.

L'île aux Cygnes
Access from Pont de Grenelle and Pont de Bir-Hakeim

If you need a little reward after your workout, I highly recommend the apple pies at the nearby Poilâne Bakery at 49 Boulevard de Grenelle.

Fresh air, beautiful view - exercising can't get much better than this! 
A Parisian studying (rather skeptically?) one of the exercise machines.
The exercise machines also make handy seats to rest and drink some juice.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday's Picture and a Song: Poilâne

While strolling the streets of Paris, Stéphane and I spied these petits pains prénom (first name rolls) at Poilâne on Boulevard de Grenelle. Unable to resist the temptation of sharing one of their warm apple pies on a chilly evening, we were lured into this Parisian bakery that's famous for its sourdough bread and "Punitions" ("Punishment") cookies. Why are they called "Punitions". This very interesting clip from the CBS television program "Sunday Morning" reveals the answer.

The next time you're in Poilâne, be sure to take a "Punitions" when you pay for your bread. The cashier offers one to all of their customers.

Have a wonderful Sunday!

Poilâne's sourdough bread with its signature "P".

Friday, November 23, 2012

Choices. Inside the life of an expat.

Sara and her friend, Bridget at MIT/WHOI. Thanks to Bridget's blog post, "A Defense at WHOI", I was able to see a key moment in Sara's life when she flipped over her photo to signify the completion of a successful defense.  

I recently learned that "Out and About in Paris" was nominated for an expat blog award, which kind of confused me because I don't really think of it as an "expat" blog. It's more about Paris than about my life in France. Just for today, I'm going to write a more personal post about one slice of expat life for those who may be contemplating a move abroad. I'll be "Out and About" in my next post.

Choices. All people are confronted by choices, but quite often the stakes seem a bit higher for expats. It's the nature of the game when you marry someone from another country or accept a job that is far from family and friends.

Nonetheless, I'm still trying to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't in the auditorium when my daughter presented her research for the defense of her masters thesis in October. Saying that it was too far for Stéphane and me to travel for a thirty-minute talk and that she would rather have us come to Boston for her graduation, Sara convinced us to stay in Paris. I'm still not sure it was the right decision. As a bit of background information, this is the same daughter who spent her last year of high school at a boarding school in Switzerland - not because she was a wild child that we wanted out of our house, but because we were transferred to the United States when she still had one more year of the two-year British A-level program to complete. As a result, I missed being there when Sara came home from school, I missed comforting her when she had a hard day, I missed making sure that she ate healthy food as she prepared for her A-level exams. Most importantly, I missed her. But accepting a 3-5 year assignment in Ohio that started during her final year of high school was the compromise that we made in order to be closer to our daughter when she started university in America.

Sara hasn't lived at home since she was 16. She'll be 25 on Christmas Day. So, imagine how happy I am that she's going to spend a couple of months with us in Paris! Of course, I'm already scheming of ways to extend her visit by dropping hints about possible jobs. I know, however, that the choice will ultimately be up to her. She was born an expat and will have to go wherever her job takes her.

Choices. Another choice that I made was to stay with my terminally ill mother in the United States after she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Considering all that my mother had done for me throughout her life, returning to Switzerland, which is where we lived at the time, wasn't even an option. I'll never forget the sinking feeling in my stomach when the hospice doctor told me during our initial consultation that he would have to admit my mother to a hospital if they felt that I couldn't cope with caring for her on my own at home. Assuring him that my siblings were committed to spending as much time with our mother as their work schedules would permit because we all knew how much she abhorred the thought of dying in a hospital, the doctor explained that he was still concerned because I wouldn't have the day-to-day support of my husband. Nonetheless, we made it work. Stéphane's voice on the other end of the phone gave me the strength to cope with caring for my mother's intimate needs. The decision to be with my mother during her final days is one of the best choices that I've ever made, even though it meant being away from Stéphane for three months.

On this day after Thanksgiving, I'm thankful to be an expat. While it's rarely the glamorous life  that others seem to believe, it's the way that Stéphane and I chose to live many years ago. It was another good choice.

If you would like to discover lots of other interesting blogs written by expats in Paris, please click here to visit Expats Blog. While you're there, please feel free to leave a comment about "Out and About in Paris". You'll have to scroll down because it's listed near the bottom of the page.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Patrick Roger's "Chocolate Mine", Maille Mustard Boutique and "The Queen of Versailles"

Since Stéphane is traveling for work this week, I thought that I would get up to a bit of monkey business - Parisian style. My first stop was Patrick Roger's newly opened boutique on the Place de la Madeleine, where chocolate monkeys with cheeky grins attract the attention of passersby. Described as a "chocolate mine" by Roger, who holds the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France, I had hoped to be able to visit all three floors. At the moment, however, visitors are restricted to the ground floor where the chocolatier's marvelous gourmet creations are available for purchase.

After selecting some cubes filled with nougatine praline and a couple caramelized almond and orange clusters, I asked the cashier when it would be possible to see the artist's incredible chocolate sculptures that I had heard were lurking in a simulated "chocolate eco-system" on the second floor and in the basement. Even though her answer was rather vague, I wasn't overly disappointed by my visit because I had the opportunity to take a photo of Patrick Roger, who's the equivalent of a rock star for chocoholics. Standing in front of clusters of aluminium cylinders that give the boutique the feel of a large beehive, Roger has every reason to grin. The store's design conveys his concern for the planet's well-being while providing a magnificent showcase for his chocolate art.

Please click here to see a post with photos of another one of Roger's amazing creations - a one ton chocolate gorilla!

Patrick Roger
3, place de la Madeleine
75008 Paris

Crossing the Rue Royale, I walked the short distance to the Maille mustard boutique to refill our clay pots with fresh mustard, on tap. While waiting in line, I sampled a seasonal mustard made with honey and Modena Balsamic vinegar and eavesdropped on the excited American tourists who were exclaiming over the wide range of enticing flavors. Grilled onion and wild thyme. Gingerbread and chestnut honey. Oyster and chanterelle mustard. They all sound a lot more appealing than the French's yellow mustard that I used to slather on my hotdogs when I was a kid. With an assortment of gift boxes and mustard accessories, the Maille boutique is one of my favorite places to take visitors who want to take something typically French back home with them.

Maille Mustard Boutique
6 Place de la Madeleine
75008 Paris

As anyone whose spouse travels on a regular basis knows, evenings are usually the loneliest periods of the day. It's when you need a distraction, something like Downton Abbey (Season Three). The only problem with that scenario is that I had rather stupidly agreed to wait until Stephane returned home to watch the next episode. Popping one of Patrick Roger's chocolates in my mouth, I tried to recall if there were any loopholes that would allow me to escape into the world of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants. Unable to think of a thing, I was pleased to see that "The Queen of Versailles" is available on itunes because I've been wanting to watch this documentary ever since a friend told me about it. This riches to rags story about the billionaire family who set out to build a 90,000 square foot mansion inspired by Versailles made me think of the excesses of the French court and proved to be a very entertaining way to end my day. It's also a very good reminder that it's important not to live beyond our means. After all, does a private home really need 10 kitchens, a full-sized baseball field and $5 million worth of marble imported from China?

Another movie that I would highly recommend is Argo, Ben Affleck's latest thriller about the rescue of six American diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Even though I knew the ending, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Unique gift ideas for Francophiles: Trudon Candles

Clutching a styrofoam cup precariously full of mulled wine, I strolled up and down the Champs-Élysées on Friday evening searching the Christmas Market for unique gift items to share with you. Amongst the chalets offering hot chocolate, roasted chestnuts and crepes, I noticed the ubiquitous glass ornaments with glittery Eiffel Towers, colorful scarves and pop-up Christmas cards, but nothing extraordinary.

Disappointed by my unsuccessful quest, inspiration arrived on Saturday morning when I read Steph's post, Chandelle versus Bougie: A Brief History of Candles, that reminded me of a boutique I had been intending to visit.

As soon as I walked into Cire Trudon, the world's oldest and most prestigious candle manufacturer, I knew that I had hit the jackpot. With the aroma of roses, lemon and mint wafting through the air, I watched as other customers discussed their candle needs with white-gloved salespeople using complex terms normally reserved for fine wine. An elderly man and his adult-aged son carefully sniffed the glass domes covering several scented candles before selecting the "Empire", a heady mixture of pine, sage and hay reminiscent of a Napoleonic camp, while a young boy chose a bright red Advent candle over the objections of his mother and grandmother, who kept telling him that the gold ones looked more festive.

Trudon candle extinguisher

Knowing that Cire Trudon candles had illuminated the royal boudoirs of Versailles and the imperial court of Napoleon, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Advent candles are a very affordable 4 euros. That's a much better deal than anything that I saw at the Christmas Market. With the expert assistance of a very friendly saleswoman, I sniffed my way around the boutique before settling on "La Marquise", a verbena and lemon scented candle that "rekindles the sharpness of Madame de Pompadour's conversations and the voluptuous charms of the Rocaille chic". As the burn time is 55 to 65 hours and the price is 6o euros, I quickly calculated that 1 euro is a reasonable price to pay for an hour of scented illumination during the long Parisian evenings. Additionally, Cire Trudon candles are 100% paraffin-free and devoid of any secondary minerals derived from petrol chemicals.

Cire Trudon

78, rue de Seine
75006 Paris
Open Monday to Saturday from 10 am - 7 pm
Closed on Mondays during August

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I'm going to be on the lookout for other unique gift items. As I'm not normally much of a shopper, please let me know if you have a favorite boutique in Paris that I can share.

To get the most out of your scented candles, here are some helpful tips from Joseph the Butler.

My purchases: La Marquise candle in a hand blown Italian candle glass, a gold Advent candle and 2 cream-colored column candles.
The 20 cm column candles are 1.80 euros per candle.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday's Picture and a Song with a Twist: Michel de Montaigne

Do you suppose Montaigne's red nose has something to do with the Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations ?  Montaigne's shiny foot reminds me of the post about the tradition of rubbing John Harvard's (Harvard University) feet.

A bright red nose. That's what it took for me to finally stop in front of the statue of Michel de Montaigne on Rue des Écoles. All of the other times, I've rushed past without giving this influential French writer another thought.

Rather than the traditional "Sunday's Song", I invite you to listen to an interesting audio clip about Montaigne's life. The first minutes are a bit slow, but Sarah Bakewell quickly warms to the topic. Her book, How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography.

While I wouldn't have known to attribute the following quotations to Montaigne, these have long been favorites:

A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.

Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom.

The beautiful souls are they that are universal, open, and ready for all things.

The advantage of living is not measured by length, but by use; some men have lived long, and lived little; attend to it while you are in it. It lies in your will, not in the number of years, for you to have lived enough.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Two thumbs up for sign language cafe in Paris, Café Signes

French language signs for coffee, tea, water, wine, etc.

Ordering lunch or a cup of coffee in a country where you don't speak the language can occasionally feel like a daunting task. One restaurant in Paris offers an easy solution because each of their menus has pictures of all the signs needed to communicate an order. If you're thirsty and would like something to drink, simply make a fist with the fingers of your right hand, extend your thumb and raise your hand towards your mouth. But don't be surprised if your waiter responds with rapid hand gestures because Café Signes is operated by a mixture of non-hearing and hearing staff.

When Sylvia and I met in front of the world's most famous deaf-run restaurant for lunch in September, she asked how I had managed to make a reservation via telephone. Feeling rather sheepish, I admitted that I hadn't thought it necessary to call because the cafe is located on a quiet street in the 14th arrondissement far from the touristy center of town. I didn't anticipate that it would be a problem to get a table. It turned out that I was wrong because the restaurant was already full of animated diners obviously enjoying their delicious smelling food when we walked through the door promptly at noon. As we turned to leave, one of the hearing staff recommended calling in advance because the bistro is a popular destination for people from the neighborhood as well as from abroad.

Anxious to have lunch at Café Signes, I followed the waiter's advice and booked a table for Sylvia's and my first get-together immediately following her return from a recent trip to the United States. While catching up on everything that had been happening in our lives during the last couple of weeks, I asked for an arugula salad and fish the same way I would in any other restaurant. It was only at the end of our meal that Sylvia and I realized that we had completely missed the opportunity to talk with the waiters in French sign language. We didn't even have to follow the suggestions on the menu about stomping on the floor or patting our waiter's arm to attract his attention because the service was so attentive. I don't mind though because it gives me a very good reason to go back to Café Signes. With a main course and a starter or dessert for 12 euros, it's one of the best deals in Paris. Plus, I really like the idea of supporting a restaurant whose goal is to bridge the gap between the speaking and non-speaking worlds.

Café Signes
33, avenue Jean Moulin
75014 Paris
Phone : 01 45 39 37 40
Open: Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm

Many thanks to Anne of "Just Another American in Paris" for sending me the link for an article in the Washington Post that mentions Cafe Signes in the story about Mozzeria, a deaf-owned restaurant in San Francisco.

Edit: After reading Fraussie's comment below, I decided to add this photo that explains how deaf people give sign nicknames to other people. For example, if someone likes flowers, their sign may be "Flower". If someone always wears a hat, their sign may be "hat", etc.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Starbucks at Place du Tertre? What would Hemingway think?

Will the artists at Place du Tertre soon be sipping coffee out of cups emblazoned with the Starbuck's logo?

If someone asked you to close your eyes and imagine one spot in Paris that symbolizes everything that the city means to you, would you conjure up images of a cozy café in the Marais, an old bookstore in the Latin Quarter or a Starbucks at Place du Tertre in Montmartre?

After noticing a heated debate on Twitter regarding the American coffee company's impending invasion of the picturesque square, I traveled to Montmartre yesterday afternoon to ask some of the local artists about their new neighbor. Their pragmatic responses surprised me. C'est la vie - business is business. It seems that the former owner, whom the artists have known for 25 years, had tried to sell the property to an individual proprietor but no one could afford the exorbitant fond de commerce. Then along came Paul, the French bakery. Paul was sent packing, however, when some of the other merchants voiced concerns that the large chain would put them out of business. Starbucks, it seems, was the best choice. After mentioning the souks that have taken over several of the streets in the area,  the artists said that they were relieved that their friend had sold his restaurant to an international company with a good reputation. They were sure that Starbucks would maintain the property. They were pleased for their friend. He has finally sold his restaurant and can retire.

Resigning myself to the realities of modern day Paris, I trudged down the steps towards the metro. When I heard a group of Americans behind me, I couldn't resist asking if they had heard the news. Shaking their heads in dismay, they said that a Starbucks will completely ruin the essence of Place du Tertre. As for me, I'm still trying to imagine Hemingway ordering a Frappuccino grande and a muffin before settling down with his laptop to take advantage of Starbuck's free wifi.

Au Pichet du Tertre will soon be Au Starbucks du Tertre. At least they won't have to change the color scheme!
The official declaration of work for the Starbucks at the Place du Tertre.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Playing with the big boys...

Professional and amateur big boys at the Salon de la Photo in Paris. Taken with my Leica.

Every once in a while, I get to play with the big boys. You know, the ones with the extremely large cameras. Professional photographers. They live in a world where most of the inhabitants are males clad in faded jeans and black leather jackets. They carry backpacks stuffed with complicated lenses, tripods and collapsible stools. While waiting for the start of an event, they crack jokes, tell tales and show each other images of scantily clad females caught on their cameras. There's even a king, the United Press International (UPI) photographer, who stakes out his territory like a regal lion in the Serengeti. If a clueless female blogger toting a minuscule camera happens to crouch down in front of the le Roi and his cronies at a fashion show, she's told in no uncertain terms to move to the back. Chivalry, they laughingly explain, has its limits.

Quick to realize that survival of the fittest is the name of the game, I mimic the big boys and tell others to move to the back in a fierce voice that isn't my own. When an alliance forms against the late arrivals, I'm thankful that I claimed my spot an hour before the scheduled start of the show. With ten minutes to go, I tell (not ask) the guy in front of me to lean to the the right so that he doesn't block my view. Much to my surprise, he agrees. For the next hour, we're plastered together as the world around us shrinks to whatever we can see through our viewfinders. We're all trying to get the shot, the best shot.

While my cameras are nowhere nearly as impressive as those of the big boys, they're just what I need when I'm "out and about" in Paris. Plus, they only weigh a fraction of the larger ones.

Since I almost always "point and shoot", I can't tell you about the technical aspects of my cameras but I can tell you what I like about them:

Leica D-Lux 5 - I particularly like to use this compact camera when I'm trying to be discrete about taking photos in stores,  restaurants, museums, etc. It's also very good for shooting close-ups and taking pictures in dim light. Another feature that I like is that it's very easy to change the format of photos from square to rectangular. The only downside is that the zoom range is only 24-90 mm.

Panasonic Lumix FZ-150 - Larger and more than twice the weight of my Leica, this is the camera I usually carry with me in town because the zoom lens allows me to take photos of people in cafes, strolling down the street, etc. The downside is that I always look like a tourist because it's so obvious when it's hanging around my neck. Unfortunately, it doesn't take very good photos in dim light.

If my schedule permits, I hope to take a photography course at WICE next year because they offer some interesting options. Click here for more information.

Here are a couple more photos that I snapped at Le Salon de la Photo in Paris yesterday. In addition to showcasing all of the latest photography equipment, they had special photo opportunities with models, birds of prey and shiny motorcycles!

The model is holding a Leica that's about the same size as mine.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday's Picture and a Song: Swiss Fondue!

Swiss white wine, Swiss fondue cheese, a Swiss fondue pot and a French baguette.

In honor of Stéphane's and my first fondue of the 2012-13 season, here's a cheesy song by Swiss singer Ricky Raclette.

If you've ever wondered what Swiss people carry across the border into France, it's Swiss cheese, Swiss wine and Swiss chocolate. The French stuff just isn't the same, although the baguettes are definitely better in Paris!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Christian Dior Christmas Windows at Printemps Pay Tribute to "City of Light"

I'm a bad blogger. A lazy blogger. Even though I knew that French actress and Christian Dior ambassador Marion Cotillard was going to unveil the 11 windows dedicated to the "City of Light" at Printemps Hausmann yesterday evening, I had a hard time convincing myself to go out in rain again after having spent the afternoon away from home. Weighing my options, I contemplated watching a movie or snuggling up with a good book while waiting for Stéphane to return from Italy. After convincing myself that I wouldn't regret the trip to Printemps, I put on my red trench coat and made a mad dash for the bus hoping to arrive just in time to see Marion Cotillard inaugurate the windows. I didn't.

But I wasn't disappointed because the sparkling Christmas windows brightened the dreary evening and listening to the children's delighted exclamations over the 74 hand-crafted animated dolls brought back memories of my own childhood when the magic of Christmas filled the air. With the French capital's legendary landmarks as a backdrop, the Dior clad dolls ice-skate at the Eiffel Tower, float above the snow-covered rooftops of the city in hot air balloons and eat cotton candy sprinkled with golden glitter at the fairground in the Tuileries Garden.

The legendary Parisian fashion house also knows what appeals to adults because the windows showcase the latest Dior haute couture, timepiece and fragrance collections. While happily snapping photos, I saw several items that are sure to appear in many women's "Dear Santa" letters, including a pair of purple Eiffel Tower shoes with a matching clutch purse. To commemorate the occasion, Dior also launched a a selection of original gift items, such as a snow globe, advent calendar and a pop-up Christmas storybook that are exclusively available at Printemps Hausmann. 

Please click here to see more photos of the Christian Dior Christmas Windows in an album that I posted on Facebook.

Printemps Haussmann
64 boulevard Haussmann
75006 Paris

Friday, November 9, 2012

Musings on wine making and our vist to Château Chadenne in Bordeaux

Many years ago, we lived in a house nestled amongst the grapevines on the aptly named Chemin des Vignerons (Winemaker's Road) in Switzerland. After driving our children to school in the pre-dawn light, I would stand at the living room window watching the winemaker tend his vines as I drank my coffee. It was my daily ritual. Even though we never spoke, I felt a certain quiet complicity with him. We were both nurturers. While I ensured that our children ate a healthy breakfast in the morning and did their homework in the evening, my stoic companion inspected the grape leaves for pests and carefully pruned his vines. Whether the sun was warming his back or the rain was falling on his head, he was a constant presence in the vineyards. His job, like mine, seemed to be endless, particularly right before the annual harvest when migrant workers would arrive to help pick the grapes. Suddenly, the fields were filled with joyous noise as the workers made their way up and down the steep slope of the hill toting baskets filled to the brim with plump grapes. And then, all too suddenly it seemed, his work for that year's harvest was finished. The fruits of his labor was bottled and stored in a cellar to be savored at a later date. Whenever I open a bottle of wine, I pause for a moment to think of my winemaker and pay homage to his hard work.

Living on the 5th floor of an apartment block in Paris, I occasionally miss the feeling of being connected to the earth and the changing of the seasons, which is why I proposed that we go to the winemaking region of Bordeaux, France when Stéphane asked where I wanted to spend the 4-day Toussaint weekend. Thanks to a chance meeting with winemakers Philippe and Véronique Jean  while dining at Chez L'Ami Jean last Thanksgiving, we even knew exactly which domaine we wanted to visit first.

Located on a plateau that dominates the Dordogne Valley, Chateau Châdenne is one of the oldest vineyards in Fronsac. It belonged to the family of French pioneer cinematographer Max Linder until the middle of last century. Philippe and Véronique acquired the estate in 1999 when they decided to realize their dream of owning a vineyard. A native of the Champagne region of France and passionate about wine, Véronique told us about the longstanding law that prohibits winemakers from watering their vineyards in Bordeaux so that the roots of the vines penetrate depth into the earth. The composition of the soil, the microclimate of Fronsac and the Jean's move to organic production results in an exceptionally fine mid-priced Bordeaux wine.

Rather than being "out and about" this morning, I'm at home waiting for our delivery of Château Chadenne wine. From the first vintage in 2000, it has received many awards and distinctions. U.S. leading wine critic Robert Parker described the Millesime 2009 as "dense, full-bodied, and at the same time, elegant, pure, and very impressive", while Le Figaro said that it was "superbe". When Stéphane and I open our first bottle, I'm sure that we'll savor the taste and remember the time that we spent visiting Chateau Châdenne with Véronique and learning more about the fine art of making wine.

Please click here to visit Château Chadenne's website. SmartBox also offers special wine experiences at Château Chadenne that include accommodation and wine tasting. Please click here for more information.
The description of Chateau Chadenne in Smartbox.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Galeries Lafayette Inaugurates Magical Louis Vuitton Christmas Windows in Paris

When I finally went to bed in the wee hours of the morning, I wasn't sure if I would write about how Ella CoquineKristen, Mariana and I spent our first presidential election in Paris or the illumination of the Christmas lights at Galeries Lafayette last night. It was only after reading New Zealander Gwan's straight talking tweet, "Yeah, yeah, America's the bestest country the universe has ever known, we get it" indicating that the rest of the world is tired of hearing about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama that I decided to forget about politics and focus on the holidays. If, however, you still want to know what it's like to be an expat on election night, journalist Yves Eudes kindly mentioned us in his article, "Une nuit américaine à Paris" in Le Monde.

Lest you think that the elephant in the above photo has something to do with the Republican party, let me assure you that the pachyderm's presence in Paris was strictly apolitical. Much to the delight of the crowd assembled in front of Galeries Lafayette, model Loulou Robert arrived astride an elephant draped in a massive Louis Vuitton blanket to flip the switch that illuminated the facade of the department store. In an unscripted show of strength, Dumba pulled the switch out of it's socket as the lights cast a festive glow on Boulevard Hausmann.

A break-dancing panda, pink flamingos and fashionable purse-toting penguins in the luxurious Louis Vuitton designed windows are sure to captivate the attention of children and adults. Based on the theme, "The Ball of the Century", to mark the centenary of the store's magnificent stained glass dome, the windows were unveiled by Galeries Lafayette chief executive officer Philippe Houzé and Roberto Eggs, president for North Europe at Louis Vuitton.

With more than 5,000 crystal stars adorning the 21 meter (69 ft) Swarovski Christmas tree, the inside of Galeries Lafayette is even more enchanting than the outside.

In keeping with the "Ball of the Century" theme, Cinderella's magical carriage will be on display on the ground floor of the department store until January 8, 2013.

Please click here to see an album with more photos of the windows, Swarovski Christmas tree and Cinderella's carriage on Facebook.