real estate porn

I’m in a stupor. And you would too if you had just spent (maybe ‘survived’ is a better word) five days with four high-energy kids. Love those kids, but I also love coming home. Having been ill with a nasty cold and cough the week before, I was already feeling rundown before I even got to Lille.

Highlights were taking the kids to my favorite tea salon in the Old Town of Lille for hot chocolate topped with whipped cream; discovering a really good independent DVD store where I bought one of my favorite movies, Dead Man directed by Jim Jarmusch. We watched it later that day and to my surprise the kids liked it (they no longer run out of the room shrieking in horror because a film is in black and white.) On another day we also rewatched, with some of their friends, the excellent Alice in Wonderland with Mia Wasikowska, directed by Tim Burton. If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it (for kids and adults alike). Two other favorites are The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Saving Mr. Banks with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.

One rainy morning the eldest boy (15) and I closeted ourselves in the kitchen and made home-made lasagna from scratch. He did all the work, I sat and supervised. Aside from the bechamel sauce which was a bit lumpy, it turned out well. Later, I took the 4 year old to McDonald’s (his choice, not mine) where he insisted on placing the order himself. His little head barely reaching the counter, he recited “Je veux un hamburger, des frites, un grand Coca et un jouet.” (I want a hamburger, fries, a large Coke, and a toy.) “S’il vous plait,” I prompted. “S’il vous plait.” he added. (I also told him to say “Je voudrais” instead of “Je veux” (“I would like” instead of “I want”), but that didn’t stick.

And, lastly, helping the 12-year old girl with a poem she had to write for school. Not easy! The theme had to be travel and the discovery of islands. Six stanzas.

“Je plane au-dessus des îles qui scintillent les couleurs de la mer…” (I hover over islands that sparkle the colors of the sea) I suggested. Then when I proposed the words “vert clair” (light green) in the second line to rhyme with “mer”, this apparently was not allowed. “Why not?” I said. “Because the first and third lines have to rhyme with each other, and the second and fourth lines. Plus we need to use linking verbs (or something) and it has to be written in the present subjunctive form.”  Huh?  Suddenly all my inspiration drained away. I hate rules, especially when you’re trying to be creative.

I never made it to Ghent, Belgium because the weather was cold and rainy.

I’m back home now, in an exhausted stupor. I have one day to relax before going back to work tomorrow. And there’s only one thing to do when you’re in this state. Watch what’s called ‘real estate porn’. You sit in front of the screen, comatose, glass of wine at your side, and chill. No effort required. Here are a few of my favorites.

Le Bon Marché department store

Frankly, the Christmas windows were a disappointment. I saw one little boy looking into them, but there wasn’t much to look at. So I went on inside and spent a good two hours walking around.


The New York equivalents to Le Bon Marché, I guess, would be Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys. My favorite place to wander here is in the gorgeous Housewares department. In 2013 the entire store underwent a massive renovation. This, in my opinion, has its pros and cons. As dazzling as the new store is, there are things that I miss about the old store. Example: Le Bon Marché used to have a Hats, Scarves, and Gloves department in the middle of the main floor that I loved. All items were casually displayed on tables and you could easily help yourself and try them on. The scarves in particular were out of this world. That’s all gone now. Cold metallic counters and display cases are now in place on the ground floor. The friendly coziness has gone. 

I wrote a post about this very topic last year when I went into another favorite department store looking to buy a simple skillet. I only found luxury, unaffordable skillets. Because department stores the world over have taken the luxury route, ordinary shoppers like myself feel pushed out. The link to this post is below.


For years I’ve been admiring this state-of-the-art Jura espresso machine (Swiss.) Too expensive though for my budget, I’m afraid. I love these colorful Marimekko cups and mugs (Finnish.)


Here’s the small whisk that I found, the one on the left. I would have liked smaller, but they didn’t have any.


I love these cotton and linen tablecloths and dishcloths from Italy below. Le Bon Marché is essentially an expensive emporium filled with beautiful things. You don’t necessarily have to buy. Juste pour le plaisir des yeux, as the French say (just for the pleasure of the eyes).


Down to the Food Hall, called La Grande Epicerie, where an abundance of treats and delicacies are on display. I must admit that after writing about the Syrian refugees the other day, I felt slightly ashamed. Because we have so much. An embarrassment of riches.


This fruit has three different names. Back home in Canada, I called them tangerines. Here they’re called clementines. And in the U.K., they call them satsumas. Another name is mandarin. Whatever you call them, winter wouldn’t be winter without them. Or without lychees, also a favorite wintertime fruit here, rich in antioxidant vitamin C and other essential nutrients.


In my books, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without marzipan. Since childhood, when I found little marzipan pigs and fruit in my stocking, I’ve adored almond paste.


Here’s the post on department stores that I wrote last year entitled Department stores in Paris, Chinese shoppers, and searching for a frying pan.

je suis en vacances…


I’m on vacation (je suis en vacances). For a week. And how I love the idea of paid vacation. Knowing that I can sit at home – or travel or do whatever I like – and still get paid. However, for the entire week I’ve had the most frightful cold, cough, sore throat, and congestion. It started last Monday and today, seven days later, the last coughs and sniffles are still burbling forth. Because of this, I’ve had to push forward my trip to Lille.

On Wednesday I’m off to the North. To Lille to spend the Christmas holidays with my four god-children and then further north to Belgium across the border. To the medieval town of Ghent.

Today, they’ve turned the heat off in my apartment building. The temperature is 6°C (42°F) outside. A cold, gray, winter’s day. They’re fixing the heating system and we’ve been told that we’ll be without heat until 6 pm. A perfect day, then, to cross town to the 6th arrondissement to the très chic Bon Marché department store. I planned to do three things there. Take photos of their Christmas windows. Buy a miniature whisk for making hot cocoa. And buy some artisanal (homemade) marshmallows for the kids to plop into their hot cocoa. (I make it from scratch for them and for me, it’s ridiculously easy: fresh whole milk, cocoa powder, sugar, and a smidgen of cornstarch to thicken it. You need a whisk, a small one.)

The Bon Marché has a Food Hall to die for. If and when you visit Paris, you must visit the Bon Marché, the main store and the Food Hall. You won’t be disappointed.

So grabbing my camera and bottle of cough syrup, I headed outside to take the metro to Sèvres-Babylone metro station. Arriving at my metro station though, the loudspeaker announcement was saying “No trains.” Why? Who knows. Take a bus. I climb back up to the street and stand at the bus stop with twenty other people. One bus arrives, already full, and no-one can get on.


In the end, I never made it out of my neighborhood. It was too cold and gray to hang around waiting. No other bus came. So I walked to my local organic supermarket to buy that great bread that I like, some goat’s cheese and a few other things and came home. Tomorrow I will make another attempt to go to Bon Marché. I also want to see the Christmas decorations in the 6th arrondissement, do some gift shopping, and afterwards stop off at La Maison du Chocolat for a hot chocolate. The weather is currently awful here. Gray, damp and cold.

Oh, there’s also that fabulous Cy Twombly and Magritte art exhibition to see at the Beaubourg (Pompidou Center). There’s also a photo exhibit I want to see at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in the Marais (links below).

While waiting for the heat to come back on, I took a few snaps of my flat (there’s a notice in the elevator informing us that we need to “purge our radiators.” I haven’t a clue how to do that. I’ll have to ask my neighbor.)

I don’t know where this Christmas custom of oranges studded with cloves comes from. But I’ve been doing it since childhood. Is it English? Scandinavian? Middle Eastern?


Unicef needs you

I am sickened by the images and news coming out of Syria, especially Aleppo. So sickened that I can no longer listen to the radio or watch the television. When the topic comes on, I need to turn it OFF. 

Unfortunately they cannot turn it off: the airstrikes, the barrel and cluster bombs, the chemical weapons used against civilians, and the shelling of hospitals … all committed by Assad’s government and Russian planes. What sort of depraved mind systematically engages in such wanton death and destruction? On innocents. On children, babies and women; ordinary men, boys and girls … civilians like you and me. Here are two depraved minds: Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin, just to name a few. The Syrian regime is also accused of using starvation as a weapon of war, considered a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. We do not see, however, any institution claiming breach of these Geneva Convention treaties. The apathy and inaction of the UN General Assembly, not to mention certain world “leaders”, is stupefying.


Syria’s civil war has created the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes.

I am filled with disgust and loathing for a number of reasons, one reason is that, as usual, we will never see the perpetrators prosecuted and judged for war crimes at the ICC (International Criminal Court) in The Hague. In fact, what purpose does the ICC serve? In my mind’s eye, all I see is an empty building with an empty courtroom. As we’ve seen, over and over and in other countries, these mass murderers carry out their crimes with complete impunity.

In today’s Sunday OBSERVER, sister newspaper to The Guardian, there’s an important opinion piece entitled “Barack Obama’s presidency will be defined by his failure to face down Assad. How his abandonment of Syria empowered the Islamists.” (link below)

Last week, up to 250,000 civilians – 100,000 of them children – were trapped in east Aleppo when it came under siege. Many of them fled into government-held west Aleppo as airstrikes intensified, but tens of thousands are still awaiting evacuation.

With the help of the international community, food, shelter and medicine can be sent to them.

Here’s an idea for a Christmas present, the gift of giving. Syrian refugees need our compassion and generosity. If you make a donation with your credit card, however small, it would be a great gift to fellow humans in need. Links are below.


You’ll find some informative reading on the UNICEF link below. Below that is The Guardian newspaper’s 2016 Charity Appeal listing the three charities they sponsor: The Children’s Society, Safe Passage, and Help Refugees, to which you can donate.

Last year’s appeal raised £2.6m ($3.2m).

Cy Twombly retrospective at the Centre Pompidou


This hugely important, very exciting exhibition pays homage to the genius of one of the 20th century’s greatest artists. Presenting single works and series from the early 1950s to 2011, it will be the last major retrospective of Twombly’s work for many years to come. This show is BIG. It opened on November 30th at the Centre Pompidou.

“The Centre Pompidou is presenting a major retrospective of the work of American artist Cy Twombly. A key event of the fall 2016, this exceptionally vast exhibition will only be shown in Paris, and will feature remarkable loans from private and public collections from all over the world.”

Presented chronologically and featuring some 140 paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculptures, the exhibition will provide what the Centre Pompidou describes as “a clear picture of an extraordinarily rich body of work which is both intellectual and sensual.”


In addition to emphasizing the importance of series and cycles in Twombly’s practice, the exhibition will also highlight the artist’s close relationship with Paris. Visitors are advised to allow plenty of time to fully experience the works included.


The selection includes many of Twombly’s iconic works, several of them never previously exhibited in France.


Born in 1928 in Lexington, Virginia, Cy Twombly died in 2011 at the age of 83 in Rome, where he spent a large part of his life. Unanimously acclaimed as one of the greatest painters of the second half of the 20th century, Twombly, who began dividing his life between Italy and America in the late Fifties, merged the legacy of American abstract expressionism with the origins of Mediterranean culture. From his first works in the early Fifties (marked by the so-called primitive arts, graffiti and writing) to his last paintings with their exuberant colour schemes, by way of the highly carnal compositions of the early Sixties and his response to minimalist and conceptual art during the Seventies, this retrospective emphasises the importance of cycles and series for Twombly, in which he reinvented great history painting.


from November 30, 2016 through April 24, 2017 at the Centre Pompidou

Here’s an informative obituary written about him (2011) –

Christmas windows

Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, Paris’s biggest department stores in central Paris, side by side on the boulevard Haussmann.


I had to push my way through the crowd to view the windows.


Is Christmas for kids only?


I don’t think so. I love the Christmas season … am I just a big kid at heart?


do get nostalgic at this time of year. Like the big clocks in this window above, time passes…TICK TOCK, TICK TOCK. But my excitement for the season does not wane. It’s linked to my childhood, of course. Christmas in our house was magical. And outside, it was always snowing; there were heaps of snow in the Toronto suburbs.


One year I received a gift of blue ice-skates. Not powder blue or periwinkle blue, but a true robin’s egg blue. I loved those skates (everyone else at our neighborhood rink had white skates.)  I have no idea what happened to them.


More festive photos to come. Next week I’ll head over to the très chic department store in the 6th arrondissement, Le Bon Marché, to see their Xmas windows and visit their fabulous Food Hall.