Lana Turner – The Bad and the Beautiful



Not Lana Turner, but the ravishing Rita Hayworth in her memorable film, GILDA


Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in GILDA. This film blew me away.


My idea of a perfect Saturday evening at home is homemade pizza, a decent bottle of red, and a great film noir, watched alone or with friends. (I’m a simple girl at heart, really I am!) Back in 1946, the French film critic Nino Frank came up with the term “film noir” (translation: “black cinema”) to describe Hollywood films with dark themes.

On this early Saturday evening in Paris, raining and cool, I’m totally chilled. This is the first of a series of long weekends throughout the month of May. I’ve cracked open a bottle of Saumur-Champigny and my pizza pie is about to go into the oven. I just got off the phone with my godson in Lille who rang to thank me for the birthday card and candies I mailed him on Thursday (well, his father rang.) I have a date with a 6 year old next weekend.

“Tata Juliet,” he said, “When are we going to see Pierre Lapin?”

Très bientôt!” I replied. (Very soon.) I had promised to take him to see the new Peter Rabbit movie. I had purchased my train tickets for this weekend, but can you believe it? The SNCF is on strike this weekend … and other weekends throughout May and June.

So, back to films noirs. What I love are the tough femme fatale women, the terse dialogue, the highly stylized black and white imagery (with shadowy lighting effects) and the cynicism. In the opening scene, there’s usually a car careening down a city street (or a desert road) and it’s raining and at night

The darkness of these films reflected the disenchantment of the times. Pessimism and disillusionment became increasingly present in the American psyche during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the world war that followed. After the war, factors such as an unstable peacetime economy, McCarthyism, and the looming threat of atomic warfare manifested themselves in a collective sense of uncertainty. The corrupt and claustrophobic world of film noir embodied these fears.

Below is a superlative opening scene of a young Cloris Leachman running barefoot down a darkened desert road in KISS ME DEADLY (1955).

Have a great weekend!

the lovely Loire


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Throughout the month of May we have four public holidays in France: May1st (Labor Day), May 8th (1945 Victory Day), May 10th (Day of Ascension) and May 21st (Pentecost). And every May the French combine those paid holidays with vacation days and take off in droves. Some of the destinations my work colleagues are heading to are Marrakech, Jakarta, Brittany, the Basque region, London and Copenhagen. If I wasn’t already booked for Lille on May 19th and Portugal in early June, I’d return to the Loire Valley because the magnificent formal gardens at the Château de Villandry are a must-see, again and again.

I’ve published this post before, but due to popular demand I’m posting it again –

A few years ago I spent a long and lovely weekend in the Loire Valley, home of chateaux, vineyards and fruit orchards. From Paris I took the train to Amboise where my friend Andrew, an Englishman who lives in the region, met me. Amboise is a pretty riverside town with its own chateau. Here’s how UNESCO describes the Loire region: “an exceptional cultural landscape, of great beauty, comprised of historic cities, villages and great architectural monuments.” And it’s true. There’s a softness in the landscape: the rolling of its gentle hills, the meandering of its rivers and the richness of its fertile soil that all converges into one glorious package that’s called the garden of France. And home of Kings since the 10th century.

From Amboise we drove to the nearby village of Loches where Andrew knew the owners of a bed and breakfast establishment. It was an excellent recommendation.

I stayed in the Sforza room and had the whole upper floor to myself. There was a sloping roof and dormer window that opened onto the river and a park beyond. The clean air and nocturnal silence that pervades the village Loches was like manna from heaven. I couldn’t get enough of the fresh country air nor the gentle burbling sound of the stream that flowed beneath my window, stark contrast to the metallic whine of scooters and cars that flow beneath my window in Paris. Even though the nights were cold, I slept with the window wide open. Here’s the view from the Sforza room –

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The two gentlemen who run the B&B couldn’t have been more charming and hospitable. Jean-Claude is originally from Paris and his business associate, Moha, from Morocco. Every morning I’d come downstairs and a smiling Moha would greet me with “Bonjour Mademoiselle!  Avez-vous bien dormi?”

“Did I sleep well?” I replied, “I think I died and went to heaven!” A generous continental breakfast was laid out on the table: yoghurts and jams home-made by Moha; croissants, breads and lots of good coffee. We were only three guests that weekend, so Jean-Claude and Moha (and their little black dog) joined us at the large table. We engaged in lively conversation. It’s rare that innkeepers in France sit down and join their guests at table, so I appreciated their warmth and company.

As you probably already know, the Loire Valley is known for several gorgeous wine regions: Muscadet, Sancerre, Vouvray and Pouilly-Fumé to name a few.  Loire wines tend to have a characteristic fruitiness with fresh, crisp flavours.  My favourite red wine from the Loire is Chinon, so Andrew drove me to the town of Chinon, an unassuming place located on the banks of the Vienne river. What a treat! I was determined to unearth some exceptional (but reasonably-priced) bottles of wine to take back to Paris with me. In the center of town we found a caviste, an independant wine merchant, with a tasting room. Sitting at a long, hand-hewed wooden table, we proceeded to sample glass after glass of Cabernet Franc, a black grape variety for which Chinon wines are known.

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Because there are so many chateaux in this region, it’s a good idea to do your research before going so as to not waste time wondering which one to visit. The weather being beautiful, we wanted to stay outdoors so decided on the Château de Villandry, famous for its gardens that comprise an ornamental garden, a water garden, a medieval herb garden, a vegetable garden and a maze. For two hours we wandered in the sunshine, marvelling at the landscape design and the history of the place. We’re talking 16th-century and this is what I love about France (and Europe in general): the commingling of past and present, modern and ancient.  

Here’s what the brochure blurb says – The Chateau of Villandry is the last of the great chateaux built during the Renaissance in the Loire Valley. The sober elegance of its architecture combined with the charm of its outstanding gardens illustrate the ideals of the Renaissance and the Age of the Enlightenment on western European thought and design.

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The next day we drove to Tours to lunch in a lively bistro named Le Chien Jaune (The Yellow Dog.) The food was decent, but nothing to rave about. This place is more for atmosphere and good wine. Tours, the principal city of the Loire Valley, makes a good base from which to visit the surrounding chateaux and vineyards. From Paris Montparnasse train station, the Loire region can be reached in only one hour and 12 minutes on the TGV fast train.

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All in all, a terrific weekend. I’m eager to return but, comme toujours, other regions and other countries beckon.

a stylish boutique hotel and three excellent Paris blogs

A truly superlative food, wine, restaurant, and food tours blog, I’m not quite sure who’s behind the operation but here’s what the blurb says about Paris by Mouth:

There’s a reason why our food tours have been celebrated by The New York Times (twice!) and knowledgeable foodies like David Lebovitz. We keep our group sizes tiny, we spend generously at the best shops in town, and we only work with expert guides who have devoted their lives to food and wine.

Run by a consortium of contributing writers, Hip Paris Blog has everything covered (plus stunning photography):

Here’s David Lebovitz’s food and restaurant blog which I’ve posted before. I see he’s just returned from a trip to Edinburgh, which is precisely where I want to go. One look at those Scottish flapjacks and I’m on the web checking airline prices.

His photos are mouthwateringly divine:

And last but not least, here’s a tony little hotel located smack in the middle of central Paris. The rooms look small but cozy. For the location the prices are reasonable. I’d stay there if I were visiting Paris.