a massive rainstorm and dinner at Paul Bert

Where else but my favorite bistro to celebrate the end of lockdown, the end of wearing masks outdoors and the beginning of summer? I jumped on the metro at 5 pm yesterday and crossed town to my friend’s place.

We drank a glass of white wine and chatted while waiting for the spectactular rainstorm with thunder and lightning to end. Then we walked to Paul Bert bistro in the 11th arrondissement.

It was so pleasant to sit outside. The weather was warm and muggy, but fresh because of the rainstorm. Below: cheese gougères with a delicious red wine from the Languedoc region. I started with a simple tomato and anchovy salad, my friend daurade (sea bream) carpaccio.

A beef filet for my friend in a creamy pepper sauce served with fries, I had roast lamb with vegetables which I ended up sending back to the kitchen. The cut of lamb was gristly, but the roast vegetables were delicious. So I asked for a plate of roasted veggies as a replacement.

Dessert was Paris Brest and an île flottante (floating island).

Walking back through the streets at around 10 pm, the bars and café terraces were bustling with Parisians, happy to be outdoors again. I loved these two colors below (to respect his privacy, I cropped my friend’s head).

Macron slapped, Melenchon floured

The man who had the audacity to slap President Macron across the face last week was given a four-month prison sentence. Not enough, most people say. The prosecutors had asked for eighteen months. 28 years old and unemployed, he is close to the Gilets jaunes movement and harbors ultra-right political convictions.

There’s an old tradition in France to “flour” politicians. What does this mean? The act of covering someone with white flour sends the message “se faire rouler dans la farine” (to get rolled in flour). That’s the literal translation, but the real meaning is to dupe or lie to people. This is how many French citizens feel towards their politicians. The expression comes from the 19th century when actors used flour as makeup and would dupe people with their identities.

Oddly enough, no one seems to protest this strange French practice, including the target himself. We watch it on TV and everyone chuckles (myself included). Even the perpetrator below (wearing sunglasses) had his moment in the sun when reporters gathered round with microphones to ask what compelled him to buy a bag of white flour and throw it onto Jean-Luc Mélenchon (leader of a left-wing political party called La France Insoumise). Video below. Further below is another video showing other politicians getting floured in the past and worse – receiving cream pies in their face. Ha! Ha! Just had a thought … imagine a big creamy pie going into the face of Donald Trump (or Boris Johnson). Now that would be poetic justice.

President Sarkozy gets a pie in the face, as do others.

 

a beautiful Wednesday

The weather is perfect here: not too hot, strong cool breeze and fluffy clouds skudding across a cobalt-blue sky. Too nice to stay indoors, that’s for sure. I grabbed my camera and hopped onto the metro to Concorde then changed to the number 14 line. My destination was my favorite large park on the other side of the city: Bercy Park. Why do I like this green space so? Because it runs alongside the river Seine and there’s always a breeze. Because it’s full of interesting things like a beautiful rose garden, a maze, a duck pond and gorgeous trees and foliage. At the far end is Bercy Village, a cluster of shops and restaurants. It was so nice to see people eating outside in groups and enjoying themselves. Paris has officially re-opened!

Schoolkids running in the shrubbery maze:

When you live in a small apartment with no balcony, you’ll take any garden, green space, park or parkette. Coming back, I ended up in front of one of the world’s greatest museums before jumping back on the metro and heading home for ice cream.

missing London

Gosh, I miss London. I woke up thinking about it this morning. I was booked to go – this week, in fact – but then cancelled because travelling from the EU to the UK seemed Covid-complicated. Also, I lost over 400 euros on a website called Reedsy, so that took a dent out of my budget. What is Reedsy? An online author services firm which serves as a bridge uniting authors and publishing freelancers in the self publishing industry. (don’t use it, I got ripped off twice.)

London has got to be one of the greatest walking, shopping, eating and cultural cities in the world. Happily, I have all my blog posts from my prior visits that serve as archives. This one was written a few years ago (pre-Covid, of course, and pre-Brexit too) during the month of August –

LONDON. An undeniably world-class city of 7 million inhabitants. Pulsating with energy. Dynamic and thrillingly diverse. Inclusive of all cultures and nationalities. Constantly redefining itself while holding firm to its history and heritage. In comparison, Paris seems….small.

Where to begin? I took over 300 photographs and walked 8 hours a day. So much to see, so much to do! I’ll start with one of my favorite places: Borough Market located under the London Bridge. As I strode across the bridge in the brisk morning air, sunshine and wind in my face and the river traffic coursing by, I felt utterly exhilarated. London does that to you. Take the District & Circle tube line to Monument.  Stride across bridge.  The market is beside Southwark Cathedral.

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Old. Atmospheric. A setting and cast of characters straight out of a Dickens’ novel. Borough Market is one of London’s oldest food markets and sprawls under the brick railway viaducts. It’s a fabulous place.

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Here’s a famous cheese shop (Neal’s Yard Dairy) that sells a stunning array of British and Irish cheeses. And guess what? The vendor was a Frenchman. I said to him in French – How is it that a Frenchman is selling English cheeses in London?  “J’ai épousé une anglaise,” he replied. (I married an Englishwoman).

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MONMOUTH COFFEE SHOP. I have only one word to describe this place and its coffee and cakes: bliss. Look how polite the English are as they queue up. In France, you’d be elbowed and stepped on in a scrum.

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Borough Market consists of up to 70 stalls and stands. Producers from all over the country bring a range of fresh produce to the market, including fish, meats, vegetables, ciders, cheeses, breads, coffees, cakes and patisseries. Other stalls specialize in produce imported from abroad. Open Wednesday to Saturday.  Pubs and restaurants too.

To see ALL my London posts, click on LONDON up top.

why I won’t be getting a second Covid vaccine (for now)

Dizziness. And an itchy rash on the left side of my face. Since getting the first vaccine on May 7th, those are the side effects I’ve had. Not often, but enough to notice. The first  dizzy episode occurred on May 15th. I was sitting with the kids on the floor of the Gare du Nord train station eating a Five Guys cheeseburger when a weird sensation suddenly overcame me. It didn’t last long, but it involved dizzyness and an overall odd feeling that invaded my body. It went away as quickly as it had come. About ten days later, same thing. But last night coming home from work, I nearly fainted in the metro. That’s when I decided to stop, or at least postpone, the Covid shots. Because I’m convinced that they and the episodes are related.

It’s true that I was overloaded last night. It was warm and I was wearing a facemask. But I’m often overloaded with groceries when I go food shopping, it’s never been a problem before. I don’t own a car. All my groceries go into a knapsack on my back and I usually carry two bags, one in each hand, as well. So last night after work, I took the metro from the foodstore. I was wearing the heavy knapsack on my back and carrying two bags, one in each hand. My handbag was slung around my torso. It was warm in the train, but not hot. I felt good – great, actually – because I’m on vacation for a week. I got off at my stop and headed to the stairs amid a small crowd of other passengers (it was rush hour.) It was when I began climbing the steps that things got weird.

Suddenly they began wavering (the steps) and I felt an uncontrollable sensation of falling onto them. Then I realized that I was indeed falling, or maybe lurching is a better word. I completely lost my balance and fell forward onto my knees. Everything was spinning and swimming around me and I heard the thud of the two bags (filled with groceries) on the steps. I felt sure that I was going to black out. The feeling of having no control over your body – especially in a public place, especially on the stairs in a tunnel in the Paris metro! – is terrible. Suddenly a hand gripped my left arm and I heard a woman’s voice behind me. “Ça va, madame? Ça va?” Grasping my arm, she held me steady. The fainting feeling went away and I felt OK again. I managed to get up and continue walking up the stairs. The whole incident lasted just a few seconds. Naturally, I thanked the woman profusely. After that, I felt fine and walked home, feeling a little shaken but OK. My knees hurt.

The kindness of strangers! Throughout my life I have been the recipient of this, and I am deeply grateful.

I believe that these small infrequent episodes are a reaction from the Covid vaccine (Pfizer). Why do I think that? Because I’ve never had them before – ever. Why now? Oh, and as I also mentioned, I keep scratching my skin on the left side of my face. The occasional dizzy spell and itchy skin, I can handle. But near-fainting in the Paris metro? No way. That’s where I draw the line.

As an aside, the familiar term for “fainting” in French is “tomber dans les pommes” (to fall into the apples).

Codicil – I understand that some people might interpret the above as irresponsible (declaring that I won’t be taking a second Covid vaccine – for now.) From the minute I step out of my apartment to when I return at night, I wear an FFP2 mask. I practice social distancing. I wash my hands several times a day and clean all surfaces with antiseptic wipes. I’m the one at the office who wipes down the photocopy machines, coffee machine and all the door handles and regularly sprays antiseptic freshener into the air. The above is merely an account of my own personal experience. I will see a doctor and, no doubt, eventually get a second Covid shot.

***

So this morning I went to my local Town Hall to get fingerprinted and provide documents for my new French passport. Oddly enough, I’d never been to my Town Hall before. For newcomers to this blog, getting a French passport was never an intention of mine, I was perfectly happy with my British passport that granted me European citizenship and allowed me to happily live and work within the EU (European Union.) But Brexit brought an end to that privilege. Overnight, British passport-holders found themselves stripped of European citizenship. It took me two years to obtain French nationality and become European again.

So I was sitting in front of a civil servant this morning (at the Town Hall) handing her the required documents. When I gave her my photos, she looked at them and said, “These are no good.”

“What?” I said rudely. Quoi ? Why? What’s wrong with them?

“Your ears aren’t showing.”

I just stared at her while an inner voice warned me to keep my cool. After years and years of dealing with French civil servants and l’Administration française (the French bureaucracy system), I have developed a very short fuse.

“I have read very carefully the guidelines for passport photographs,” I said calmly. “And nowhere did I see any mention of the necessity of showing your ears.”

Si!” she replied jubilantly. Si means “yes” to a negative. She pounced on a document  pertaining to photographs and showed me two words that said “visage dégagé“. Mentally, I was trying to translate “dégagé” into English. Cleared. Unrestricted. Literally, a cleared or unrestricted face.

“So what does that mean?” I said defiantly. “To me, it means no glasses, no face covering, no hair in your face …”

Mais non!” she exalted, “It means your hair behind your ears!” I’m convinced that French civil servants revel in this stuff, I’ve seen it over and over again. Little Napoleons, all of them. You give them a shred of power and they milk it for all its worth.

By this time, two colleagues of hers came over and now we were four. I stood my ground. “Look!” I said, showing them my British passport, “Showing your ears for a British passport isn’t necessary!”

As if they cared. They barely glanced at the photo. “Madame,” the civil servant warned me sternly, “Either you go now and bring us back new photographs in which we can see your ears, or we will cancel your appointment and you’ll have to wait two to three months for a new rendezvous.”

“OK, OK …” I conceded. I know when I’m outnumbered. It was me against the French Republic. I stood up. “But just out of curiosity, why is it so important that one’s ears are visible in a passport photograph?” I was not given an answer. I limped to Monoprix up the road (my right knee hurt from last night) and got new photos done.

Polignano a Mare (Puglia, Italy)

I fell in love with this town five years ago. Perched on a limestone cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea, it was the perfect escape from crowded polluted Paris.

I’d stand on this promontory and breathe in deep gulps of clean air. There was always a cool wind blowing in from Croatia, Albania and Greece beyond. I loved the color of the sea: deep Adriatic blue.

An afternoon slice of cheesecake and caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla, a blend of almond milk, almond syrup and espresso poured over ice cubes.

I was touched by the gesture of this mother and daughter, madre e figlia, holding hands in a supermarket. Family is tight in Italy, especially in the south.

As I was crossing a town square, a woman whose hair bounced and shone in the sunlight was walking in front of me. I loved the color. I wanted my hair to look like that. I stopped and complimented her, then asked where she got her hair done. She gave me the name and address of the salon.

Lovely people. The further south you go, the more expansive and outgoing they are. There’s an exuberance in Italy that appeals to me greatly. On my last day, I went to this rooftop bar, ordered myself a glass of Prosecco, and sat contemplating the sea.

For me, Polignano is a cleansing place.

Arrivederci! I’ll be back.

Two more posts to come: Lecce and Rome.

This is a post written in June 2019 that I’m reposting. I had taken an 11-day train trip through Italy right down to Puglia, deep in the heel of the boot. It was marvellous. I also visited Rome with two friends and then Lecce and Bologna on my own. Click on ITALY up top to read my travelogues from that memorable June trip. I ended up in Nice, France.

Had I known that a mere six months later, in January 2020, COVID would hit Italy hard, primarily in the regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, but other regions too, including Puglia – hundreds and thousands of Italians dead, the majority of them elderly – I would have fallen off my chair.

Elizabeth Taylor’s face

My mother’s social life was a swirl of parties, rustling dresses, stiletto heels and hankies fragrant with perfume. While she readied herself for another Saturday night gathering, I’d sit cross-legged in the middle of my parents’ bed and leaf through the latest issues of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and McCall’s (we had magazines galore in our house, stacks in every room.)

I can still see my mother’s dresser top with the ivory-framed photos of her mother and aunts, the cut-glass powder jar atop a lace doily, assorted perfume bottles − a winged L’Air du Temps, a square beveled Chanel No. 5, a crystal Diorissimo − and the three-tier jewelry box whose open lid revealed a trove of brooches, bracelets and earrings resting on the velvet-lined trays.

On one of those evenings, I remarked on the beautiful women that graced the magazine covers strewn across the bedspread. Staring out at me were the faces of Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren and Mia Farrow who had just divorced Frank Sinatra.

“Do you know what real beauty is?” my mother said, her muffled voice floating out to me from the closet where she was searching for a favorite cocktail dress, the black crepe with the satin bow in the back.

“No, what?” I said idly, flipping pages.

“Perfectly-proportioned features … like Elizabeth Taylor’s face.”

“Like Elizabeth Taylor’s face,” I murmured under my breath, still flipping until I came to a Twiggy fashion spread and studied it.

Later, when my mother had gone down the hall in search of my father, I slid off the bed and went to the dresser to study my face in the mirror. Did I possess real beauty? Were my features perfectly-proportioned? They were not. My nose and forehead were too large and my mouth was too small. But I wasn’t bothered much. My life was too full and carefree to fret over such things.

 

(an excerpt from my memoir)

Copyrighted Material

a perfect summer’s day

This post was written a few years ago. One of my favorites, I’m reposting it.

The weather was so perfect I wanted to preserve it in a bottle: cobalt-blue sky, blazing sun and a cool breeze blowing in from somewhere. Impossible to stay indoors! I jumped on the metro and crossed town to my favorite large park in Paris.

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On the number 14 line, there are two metro stops that serve the Parc de Bercy, one at either end: Cour Saint-Émilion which takes you directly to Bercy Village, and Bercy, at the far end of the park. Personally, I prefer Bercy because it allows me to walk through the elongated, beautiful park that runs parallel to the river Seine.

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Inaugurated in 2006, this is the Simone de Beauvoir footbridge that leads to the famous BnF (Bibliothèque nationale de France) on the other side.

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Bercy Village is located at the end of Bercy Park (metro stop Cour Saint-Émilion on the number 14 line.) Tastefully designed and spread out along a single pedestrian street, it houses an even number of shops and restaurants. It’s what I call a “feel good” place.

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Here’s a favorite shop of mine. Fragonard sells gorgeous soaps, bath products, body creams as well as clothes, jewelry and a few home furnishings. If you’re looking for gifts, this is the place to go. It’s also beautifully air-conditioned.

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Their signature glycerine soaps cost 5 euros apiece. I bought a green one (Verveine which is lemon verbena). I also bought a gift box of four jasmine soaps for only 12 euros per box. The prices at Fragonard are reasonable, the quality excellent.

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To see more photos of Bercy Park (and the open-air swimming pool on the river Seine) from a blog post written three summers ago, click here –

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Paris re-opens!

Paris is re-opening – hooray! (Or “hourra!”, as we say in France.)

What with curfew, lockdown, stores, restaurants and museums shuttered, it’s been glum. Over the weekend and because of the 7 pm curfew, the kids and I couldn’t go out at night. Starting tomorrow though there’ll still be a curfew but pushed forward to 9 pm.

Starting tomorrow, it’s all opening up: department stores, museums, cinemas and theaters, café terraces and all stores and shops (with limited numbers of people allowed.) What I missed most were museums and department stores. I cook a lot at home, so I didn’t miss restaurants that much.

My first outing? To Au Printemps department store on the boulevard Haussmann and to the magnificent Louvre to wander the exhibition halls and look at great, great Art.

There’s also the new Hotel de la Marine which has just opened on the Place de la Concorde after years and years of renovation. Link below.

Louvre Museum Official Website

Hôtel de la Marine (hotel-de-la-marine.paris)

long weekend ahead, kids coming, a funny ad with de Niro and Federer

I’m posting this now because I won’t have a minute to myself starting Thursday. A 4-day weekend is coming up, Thursday is Ascension Day, and most people take the Friday off as well. The kids are coming from Lille to spend the long weekend with their Tata Juliet. They travel down on the train by themselves and I meet them at the Gare du Nord train station. The weather is forecast to be cool and drizzly, so I guess we’ll just hang out in my flat and make cookies, pizza and crepes (their favorite.) Soso will dance for us and make us laugh (he just turned 9), M will lie on her back plugged into her telephone (she’s 16). At night we’ll watch DVDs – I have Wallace and Gromit, Toy Story 3 and M wants to rewatch The Wizard of Oz. M has an essay to write in English, so I’ll help her.

I love this new ad with Robert de Niro and Roger Federer. Thought I’d share it with you.

(317) No Drama. – YouTube