today, at precisely 6:50 pm, bells rang out across the country

Rouen. Strasbourg. Bordeaux. Versailles. Dijon. Marseille. Toulouse. Amiens, to name a few. All across the nation and in solidarity with their wounded sister in Paris, the majestic cathedrals of France rang their bells simultaneously at precisely 6:50 pm, the time that fire broke out on Monday. What a beautiful idea.



Filmed a few years ago and featuring a dishy Englishman, here’s an interesting 10-minute guided tour inside Notre-Dame cathedral.


the burning of Notre-Dame


good pic notre dame burning

AFP-Getty Images

One thing I’ve always liked about the French is their discretion vis-à-vis their (Catholic) faith. I appreciate this because religion is a deeply personal matter and should, in my opinion, remain private and unobtrusive in the public sphere.

But this morning at the office you could feel the raw emotion and désarroi in the air. Many of my French Catholic colleagues were visibly very upset. Clusters of them gathered in corners and around espresso machines to speak of last night’s tragedy, quietly at first and then louder. Being neither Catholic nor French, I respectfully stayed at my desk and did not encroach on their space. But I listened (the office is open plan.) Here’s what I heard (translated):

But I was there, just the day before at the same hour! I had gone to evening Mass with my mother to celebrate Palm Sunday.

Were you shaken? Mais, évidemment, c’est une catastrophe !

I watched the spire fall, and it was as if an arrow had pierced my heart.

I was coming out of the boulangerie at around 6:50 pm and I saw smoke at the end of the street. I stood paralyzed with shock. Notre Dame is in my parish, you know.

Well, I don’t believe for a second it was accidental. During the week of Easter? No, it’s too coincidental. Notre Dame? It’s a symbol of France and of Christianity. One minute it’s there, and then – pof ! – tout en flammes (up in flames.)

What are you saying, that it was a conspiracy? Yes, I think it was the Freemasons.

Have you read Naomi Klein’s book, La Stratégie du Choc? (The Shock Doctrine). She writes about conspiracies.

Who’s Naomi Klein? She’s an American author. (“No she isn’t, she’s Canadian!” I wanted to shout. But I kept my mouth shut.)

 Mais c’est Victor Hugo qui l’a sauvé avec son roman! (But it was Victor Hugo who saved the cathedral with his novel!)


Later, over coffee, I asked Jean-Philippe what he meant about Victor Hugo’s novel saving Notre Dame. He explained that when Haussmann was busy transforming Paris from the mid to late 1800s, he wanted to raze Notre Dame to make room for his famous boulevards. In protestation, Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame. “Haven’t you read the book?” J-P asked me. I replied that I hadn’t. “Well, maybe you’ve seen the musical somewhere?” he insisted. “No, I hate musicals.” I replied.

And then another of my colleagues, originally from Lebanon and of Christian faith, came in wearing his habitual suit and tie. He’s a jokester by nature, and usually keeps us laughing all day. But this morning something was different. And then we noticed his tie: it was entirely black.

Je suis en deuil.’ (I’m in mourning), he said solemnly, and no one laughed.

As for me, I was sitting in a pizzeria last night while sirens wailed across the city. “Gosh, I wonder what’s going on?” I said to my two friends. We were completely unaware of the catastrophe unfolding a mere mile away. We had earlier gone to an exhibition at the Grand Palais called La Lune (The Moon.) A disappointment.

IF YOU WISH TO MAKE A DONATION TO REBUILD NOTRE-DAME, the website is below. It is a government site from the Ministry of Culture as well as the Center of National Monuments. In the space of 24 hours, France has already received 750 million Euros in donations.

fire two

Notre-Dame stained glass intact after the fire


Saturday night pizza


I’m on a pizza kick, pizza that I make myself. It’s so easy! And fun because each pie is different depending on what ingredients you have in the larder. I may never buy frozen again!


This one is vegetarian with red onion, garlic, tomato sauce, rocket (arugula) and grated gruyère cheese. Delicious! (I later learned that if you’re a purist, you’ll only use parmesan.)


Google “Jamie Oliver’s pizza dough recipe”, which is what I use. You can halve it.

My tips – don’t go wild (like I did the first time) and overload your pizza. Keep it simple and light. I mix two different flours: white and wholewheat. If you have an organic supermarket near you, buy organic flours…so much better than industrial. I use either a round cake tin (lightly oiled on the bottom with olive oil) or a flat baking tray (oiled). One of these days I’ll get around to buying a proper pizza pan.


Two other tips – go easy on the tomato sauce (I use ordinary spaghetti sauce from a jar). Too much will bog the crust down and ruin it, a super-thin layer of sauce is all you need. Slide your pie into a pre-heated, super-hot oven (230°C / 446°F). That way it cooks faster and crispier.

Here are some topping ideas:

shrimp, tuna, anchovies, chorizo, ham, bacon, pancetta, ground beef or bresola;

artichoke hearts, red onion, red or yellow peppers, garlic, olives, rocket (arugula), fresh basil leaves;

thinly sliced potato, rocket, yam, mushrooms, basically any vegetable;

mozzarella, goat’s cheese, ricotta, pecorino, parmesan, gruyère, cheddar…basically any cheese (unless you’re a purist whereby you’ll only use parmesan.)

Rome, anyone?

To roam in Rome

In anticipation of my trip to Rome next month, I’m starting to compile lists and addresses of ‘best pizza in Rome’, ‘best gelato and pastries’, ‘best markets, museums’, etc. (The last time I was in Rome was about 15 years ago.) And then I stumbled across this New York Times travel vid and thought it was pretty cool. See for yourself!

Here’s another one, more pedantic, but beautifully filmed –

city noises of Lille

SUNDAY – I slept until 10 this morning. Earlier, around 6 am, I was awakened by a chattering congregation of birds, predominant amongst them a cooing sound. ‘Doves?’ I remember thinking before falling asleep again. What kind of bird, other than a dove, makes a cooing sound?

The sound of church bells awakened me again at 10 am. 

In my Paris apartment all I hear are scooters, motorcycles, drunkards, people talking loudly on their cell phones, people sitting in their cars talking through amplified speaker systems (my apartment overlooks a dusty noisy street.)

My nerves are frazzled, and I constantly crave quiet. At the office I work in an open space, a noisy one. I don’t know whose idea it was to place the Legal Department in the middle of the Sales Department, but that’s where I am.

This morning in Lille I walked the 20 minutes to the large Sunday market called Wazemmes. It’s a huge outdoor market, principally Arab. “Can I take Soso with me?” I asked his mother. “No,” she replied, “Too many people.” And she’s right. If you don’t like crowds, you should avoid Wazemmes on a Sunday morning. But I like it because there are bargains to be had, and it’s lively and convivial. I bought a large bottle of orange flower water for 1 euro (in Paris it costs 7 euros), a bunch of socks made from bamboo fiber, two boxes of Turkish Delight, and some pastries.

“How was it?” my friends asked when I returned to the apartment. “Like taking a trip to Morocco.” I said.

Just before leaving to catch my 5 pm train back to Paris, I was sitting on the bed in one of the children’s bedrooms. Soso was standing in front of the mirror making faces at himself. “I”m leaving now,” I said to him, “The next time I see you, you’ll be seven years old.” After a pause, I added, “You’ll never be six ever again.”

He thought about this for a few seconds, then said – “I’ll miss being six.”

His idol of the moment is Kamil Majestic, child rap singer and winner of The Voice Kids.


intermittent fasting and the lovely Dominique Sachse

High cholesterol levels and excess weight has led me to explore different ways of eating. I like the idea of intermittent fasting. Dominique will explain it to you. I warmed to her immediately because of her morning coffee habit (exactly like mine.) I too am drinking less cow’s milk and more vegetal milks (almond, cashew, soy, etc.) Note: it’s easy to make your own almond-cashew milk, which I sometimes do on the weekend. Mixed with a small amount of organic coconut milk and added to a mug of strong hot coffee is something I look forward to all week. Mondays to Friday at the office, I drink black unsugared espresso from my own small Nespresso machine that sits on the windowsill five feet from my desk.

I stumbled across Dominique while looking for something, can’t remember what, on YouTube. I think she’s great. The video below shows us what she eats in a day. My takeaway was that we need to drastically cut back on “white foods”, AKA refined carbohydrates (anything made from white flour: bread, pasta, pastries, rice, cakes, cookies, cereals, etc., .)



women traveling solo

I began traveling solo at the age of 17 when my mother sent me to Aix-en-Provence in southern France. I traveled there from Toronto, Canada. Here’s an excerpt from my memoir, due to be out later this year:

The summer before, on a night train down to Marseilles, I was stretched across four seats in an unoccupied compartment, sleeping. I was on my way to Aix-en-Provence to learn French at the summer school there. In the middle of the night, while the train clacked and rumbled through shuttered towns and across dark swathes of countryside, I awoke to find a well-dressed man sitting upright on the seat directly across from me. He must have crept into the compartment while I was sleeping. In the semidarkness I discerned some jerky movements going on. It took me a few seconds to comprehend his actions: while watching me stretched out and sleeping, he was pleasuring himself. Enraged, I sat bolt upright and screamed at him to get out. If he didn’t, I threatened, I’d pull the emergency alarm. He fled the compartment. I never told my parents.

I never told them either about the tree-men, the Arabs who gathered at dusk in the olive trees that ringed the women’s residence hall on the Aix-en-Provence university campus. It was the oddest, most unforgettable sight. They climbed the trunks like monkeys then perched on the higher boughs, intent on spying on us before we lowered the shutters at nightfall. My roommate was an older girl from Iowa. One evening we stood in front of the window in our room, stock-still in the half-light, watching them. “But what on earth are they doing?” I said, my voice betraying the naivety of my 17-year-old self.

“They come to look at us,” she said.

“Us? You and me?”

“All of us. All of the women in this building.”



I decided to write this post after reading an article in The New York Times, chillingly titled Adventurous. Alone. Attacked. It’s about women who choose to travel alone, and what happens to them.

I try to be vigilant as I go about my everyday life here in Paris. My personal mantra is “Anytime, anywhere,” (an assault or terrorist attack can occur at any moment in any place.) Be observant. Have eyes in the back of your head.

I once asked a New York City taxi driver if the Upper West Side was a safe neighborhood. We were speeding up Riverside Drive. At a red light he turned around, looked me straight in the eyes, and yelled, “Lady, nowhere’s safe!”

And yet we travel, and why shouldn’t we?

Mid-May I head down to Puglia, a less-explored region in the heel of Italy. I’ll be alone, I’ll explore the cities and towns, and I’ll be mindful. What does that mean, exactly? It means not staying in an Airbnb, but in a hotel in the center of town, a hotel with a manned reception desk and positive opinions on TripAdvisor and other hotel sites. It means dressing modestly and inconspicuously. It means going out at night in the center of town only if there’s a lot of people around, and returning to the hotel fairly early. It means not going into bars alone at night, and not being overly friendly if chatting with men. Keep your reserve. While traveling, I’ve seen young women behaving in a way too friendly manner with local men, unaware that in foreign countries they’re being perceived (and judged) through a completely different lens.

If I step into an elevator occupied by an individual I don’t like the looks of or from whom I’m getting bad vibes (that’s my call), I’ll step back out of that elevator. “That would be seen as rude,” someone said to me when I mentioned this. Women the world over are conditioned to be polite, smiley and pleasant. Compliant even. In some cases, this behavior pattern could actually put us in danger. Trust your gut instinct. If it doesn’t feel right, then “leg it”, as the Brits say.

In Aqaba, Jordan in the 1990s, I stood in the town square with my Arabic-speaking boyfriend watching a pack of jeering Jordanian boys hound a young American couple. The woman was in tears and the boyfriend looked terrified. They were holding hands and running like hell back to their hotel, a mob of thirty or more boys and young men following them shouting in Arabic. Their crime? The young woman was wearing a mini-skirt, bare legs and a crop top. Who would think to wear such skimpy clothing in a backwater, Muslim, Middle Eastern town? Even though it was searing hot, I wore a long, white cotton dress with half sleeves. When traveling to foreign places, inform yourself of the local culture/customs. Be respectful of them.

Once, while vacationing on a small Caribbean island called Turks and Caicos, I came across a trio of Frenchwomen sunbathing topless on the beach. I remember thinking that that might not be the smartest idea. After all, they weren’t on the French Riviera.

And no matter how careful and organized we are, the unexpected will always arise. Like the time Air France lost my suitcase on a flight from France to Cuba. At my Havana hotel, the desk clerk remarked that it might be on the next incoming flight. So I took a taxi back to the airport, watched the luggage carousel of the next incoming flight from Paris go round and round, but my suitcase wasn’t on it. When I left the airport it was around 10 pm. The taxi driver seemed pleasant enough, but ten minutes into the ride he stopped at a roadside café to pick up a friend. And then, ten minutes later, he suddenly exited the main highway and veered onto a smaller, completely darkened road. Perplexed at first, and then scared and convinced they were going to rape and leave me for dead in a field, I began screaming. Alarmed, the taxi driver stopped the car. Another car headed towards us. I sprang out of the taxicab and flagged it down. It was occupied by a nice man and woman. Uncomprehending, the taxi driver and his friend explained to me in broken English that he was just dropping off his friend who lived down that smaller road. It was an absurd scenario: five of us standing in the pitch-black Cuban night, sugar cane fields on either side of us, the car lights the only illumination. I had only been in the country twelve hours. They all convinced me that I was safe. In the end I was driven back to my hotel without incident. My suitcase never did turn up.

And lastly, I’ve only gotten drunk once while traveling alone, it was completely accidental. I had driven all the way down to Key West from Miami in a rental car. The sun was blazing hot and the car A/C was broken. Me and my French girlfriend, Véronique, had been vacationing in Miami. She had gone home, I headed south. Crossing the Seven Mile Bridge was awesome, but by the time I checked into my hotel my throat was parched from the heat. The hotel receptionist recommended a restaurant up the road. It was mid-afternoon, and the bar was in a garden. On an empty stomach I guzzled a large Key lime colada. I didn’t realize how potent it was. It was so refreshing I guzzled a second one. And then I fell off my bar stool into a bush. I eventually managed to make my way back to the hotel. Luckily it was daytime; it could have been risky had it been night.

Here’s a blog post from my solo trip to Naples where, within ten minutes of arriving, I was attacked in the street –