the Breizh crêperie in the Marais


The plan was to attend the Vintage Salon in the heart of the Marais this Sunday afternoon, but we never got there because we were detained at the crêperie. We had to line up for half an hour to get into the Breizh Café. I hate queuing, so while Monique held our place and chatted with a quartet of Trump supporters from Queens, I walked up the road and snapped a few shots.


We finally got a table and the atmosphere was jolly. We both ordered a ham, cheese, egg and artichoke buckwheat crêpe. I had a small bowl of cider, Monique a small green salad.


There are two kinds of crêpe – sweet and savory.  The savory ones, called galettes, are made from buckwheat flour called sarrasin. At the Breizh Café (the name Breizh, incidentally, means Brittany in Breton, the indigenous Celtic language), the secret of its success is the authenticity of their products. All products, including the butter, are transported from the French region of Brittany, the home of galettes and crepes, cider, sea-salt caramels and a dozen other delights.


Monique’s dessert crêpe was pear and chocolate, mine was caramelized apple drizzled with salted caramel.  The both were topped with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream and a spoonful of whipped cream. This place isn’t cheap, although there are simpler, less expensive options on the menu. My dessert crêpe cost 10 euros 50, as did the savory crêpe. Clearly, the Breizh café is a once or twice-a-year event, at least for my pocketbook it is.  But you should go at least once because the service is good, the food and cider exemplary and the ambiance fun.


Leaving the restaurant, we went to the shop next door where you can buy the products trucked in from Brittany – gorgeous butter, cider, cheese, jams, etc. They are all high quality…and expensive. 


French rappers PNL (Peace ‘n Lové)

Their album Le Monde Chico has rocked the French music industry

Too many French suburbs are characterized by drug dealing, chronic criminality, poverty, youth gangs and unemployment. Out of one particular suburb, however, comes a phenomenon called PNL.

Despite not signing a record deal with a label, despite not doing interviews and refusing to give away information about themselves on social media, French duo PNL have topped the iTunes album charts. Their debut, Le Monde Chico, consists of 14 songs, and has rocked the French music industry. Some have hailed them the biggest music sensation in France (for 2015).

PNL – which stands for Peace and Lové – is two brothers, Tarik (29) and Nabil (27), who were born and raised in a tough housing estate in Corbeil-Essonnes, just south of Paris, an area notorious for crime. Only last month a 19-year old was shot in the head during a gang shootout there.


French music writer Oliver Cachin says this:

“We don’t know who they are, we only have their lyrics to go on. The mystery around them has no previous equivalent in French rap.”

“Their success comes down to the atmosphere they create: a kind of melodic sadness. They deal with familiar themes – drug sales, criminality, the banlieues – but there’s something in their tone, a kind of absence, a hypnotic quality, a solitude, that’s totally different and absolutely their own. Rather than brutality, it’s a sadness that rings out.”

Growing up in the projects, Tarik and Nabil were part of an increasingly marginalized demographic. Their Algerian mother was largely absent, while their father, a Corsican pied-noir (a European who lived in Algeria under French colonial rule) is described in their songs as a gangster. Their lyrics are often peppered with Arabic. As for the rest of their biography, it’s a bit hazy although we do know that the younger brother spent time in prison for drug dealing.

Here’s a clip that received over 10 million views in under six months. Incidentally, it was filmed in the Naples suburb of Scampia (mafia-owned and dangerous.) I’m not sure why they went all the way to Naples. There are plenty of dangerous suburbs and housing projects to choose from in France (especially around Marseilles.)

In their latest album entitled “La Vie est Belle” (Life is Beautiful) we see the two artists in NamibiaAfrica. Now wealthy, they have managed to escape the grim housing projects to compose new rap songs and travel the world. As you can see, money has mellowed them. Life is now beautiful and they’ve lost their angry edge. Good for them. They succeeded in channelling their anger (creatively) to build a new life for themselves.

weekend in Lille

It’s important to have a getaway destination, what the Brits call “a bolthole”: a place to escape to, quickly and easily, from the congestion and pollution of a big city. It’s also important, for me anyway, to spend time with children.

I remember when the kids were small, I’d say to their parents “I don’t want them to grow up. I want them to stay small and innocent forever.” Here’s the eldest boy, all grown up at 15 years old, and in full rebellion. Listens to rap, talks back to his parents, thinks He Knows It All and we know nothing (reminds me of me at the same age). Sitting on his unmade bed. Oh, and permanently attached to his iPhone, as if it were an extension of his arm.

2O2O Update: Now he’s 19, has his driver’s license and owns his own car! Works part-time and is planning to go to university in the fall.


Here he was nine years ago at the age of 6. Adorable. Sitting on my knee. Knee-high to a grasshopper. We were really close.


Saturday night a bunch of his friends and cousins were over. You’ll never guess what they were doing. They were all sitting in one room, completely silent, each with his or her iPhone, sending text messages and Snapchat photos to each other. “But why don’t you just talk?” we grownups said to them. “You know…like, a conversation??” “No, that’s boring,” was the reply.

Here’s how to empty a room full of kids fast. Put on a DVD of an old black and white film. I brought the excellent 3:10 to Yuma with me. Not the remake with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, but the original 1957 Western starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. Sublimely beautiful and directed by Delmer Daves. We fired up the DVD player and as soon as the film came on the kids cried – “Aaaarrrrgghhhh!!…it’s black and white!!!!”  And ran out of the room.

Saturday afternoon went into the Old Town of Lille with my 12-year old goddaughter, M. Narrow, cobblestoned streets. Great boutiques and tea salons. And the good people of Lille, called Lillois, are friendlier and more laidback than the aggressive Parisians.

2O2O Update: She’s 16 now and I help her with her English high-school homework.


We ended the afternoon in my favorite tea salon called Tous Les Jours Dimanche. We ordered hot chocolate, one with real whipped cream called chantilly, the other intense dark chocolate.

2O2O Update: Sadly, Tous Les Jours Dimanche closed down, permanently.


How sad is this? Above and below, now shuttered and abandoned due to COVID 19.

I went to Lille’s Museum of Fine Arts, otherwise known as the Musée des Beaux-Arts.


There’s a small porcelain collection that I like to revisit. Here’s an 18th-century cup from the north of France called “une tasse trembleuse”.


Here’s an 18th-century hot chocolate pot (chocolatière) and cup. I wonder what 18th-century hot chocolate tasted like.


And some Delft porcelain from Holland, 1700-1750. I must visit the small town of Delft, I hear it’s charming. I really want to go back to Holland, to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and to The Hague.

2O2O Update: I did go to The Hague in August 2017 and to Amsterdam in February 2019. I had a marvelous time in both places. (Click on HOLLAND up top, if you’re interested.)


If you like porcelain, there’s an important collection at the Musée National de Céramique de Sèvres in western Paris.

a beautiful poem

WILD GEESE by Mary Oliver

 You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

 Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

 Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

If you’re wondering who the author is, Mary Oliver is an American poet who has won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Born in Maple Heights, Ohio in 1935, she attended Vassar College and Ohio State University.

Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.