off to Portugal

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In a few days I fly from Paris to Lisbon. I’m excited about travelling to this new and unknown destination (unknown to me, that is.) 

Above is a photo of the new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT).

Stay tuned for a travel report when I return.

If you’re interested, here’s a collection of best travel articles to look at (for Portugal) –

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/lisbon

migrant from Mali, hailed a hero in Paris

You’ve probably seen this video because it’s gone viral. The 22 year old Malian named Mamoudou Gassama was walking down a Paris street the other day when he saw a small child dangling from an apartment balcony. Without thinking, he scaled the building and rescued the child. A couple of days later he was received in President Macron’s office. Not to be deported back to Mali (he’s undocumented), but to be granted French citizenship and offered a job with the Paris Fire Department. He was also given an award and a certificate for bravery.

Gassama arrived in France last year after making the dangerous boat crossing to Italy.

But why was the 4 year old boy dangling from the balcony? Because the boy’s father had gone out to do some errands, leaving the child alone in the apartment. He was delayed because he stopped off in a café to play Pokeman Go. The mother wasn’t around. The father of the child was immediately taken into custody for failing to perform his parental obligation. See video here and The Guardian article further below.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/28/spider-man-of-paris-to-get-french-citizenship-after-rescuing-child

two pesto variations

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During the summer I buy large bunches of fragrant basil at my local market. And I make my own variation of pesto replacing pine nuts with walnuts and parmesan cheese with pecorino cheese. Once you’ve got all the ingredients assembled, it takes less than 5 minutes to make.

Ingredients

5-6 ounces (2 healthy bunches) of fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
1-2 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

These measurements are completely flexible. Add more or less to your liking.

I can’t get enough of this pink garlic from Provence. I’m never without.

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Whiz all the ingredients in a food processor, toss with cooked al dente pasta, and serve with a cooled, light red like this lovely Saumur from the Loire Valley. It’s that easy.

Note: pesto isn’t just for pasta. Dollop it onto a tomato-mozzarella-onion salad or grilled chicken, bruschetta, pizza, scrambled eggs, etc.

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The second variation of pesto uses pistachios instead of walnuts or pine nuts –

  • Quickly roast (or toast) 100 grams of pistachios in a dry frypan or under the grill.
  • In a blender or food processor mix the pistachios with the leaves of one bouquet of fresh mint, the juice of one lemon, 10 cl olive oil, 50 g of grated parmesan, 3 garlic cloves and 3 tablespoons of water. If too thick, add a bit more water. Salt and pepper.
  • Toss with al dente pasta and top with grated parmesan and lemon zest.  

I’d be inclined to serve this with a fragrant white wine, like a Gewurztraminer that I sampled a few weeks ago; a sweetish, floral varietal grown in the Alsace region of France. Alsatian wines are delightful; lately I’ve been giving them more attention.

a Russian church in Paris, my favorite park, a tea salon and the Courcelles district

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Strolling along the boulevard de Courcelles in Paris’s 8th arrondissement, you are suddenly arrested by an unexpected and spectacular sight. Stopping in your tracks you exclaim, “Oh, my God!” (which is appropriate seeing as it’s a church). Not a church, actually, but a cathedral. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox cathedral located at 12 rue Daru (or the foot of rue Pierre Le Grand). Established in 1861, it was the first Russian Orthodox place of worship in France. To visit, the nearest metro station is Ternes.

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Guess who married here in July 1918? Pablo Picasso to Olga Khokhlova. The witnesses were Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire. When visitors to Paris ask me for out-of-the-way places to explore, I always suggest this area.

Cities are composed of villages, really, or pocket neighborhoods and one of my favorites is the district bordering the small and beautiful Parc Monceau. One reason I like it so is because it’s completely off the tourist grid. The people you see are mainly residents or, during the week, people who work there. There are some great shops, restaurants and a market street.

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strolling along the blvd. des Courcelles yesterday in the sunshine

Yesterday I went to buy tea, flowers and macaroons. We’re enjoying perfect weather this weekend in Paris: 20 to 22 degrees with brilliant sunshine. Plus, it’s a 3-day weekend, Monday May 21st being the Christian holy day of Pentecost. (Yup, in this country, Catholics rule!) From the Russian cathedral, I walked up the road to Mariage Frères, the temple of tea located at 260 Faubourg Saint-Honoré (there are other locations dotted around the city.) I bought 100 grams of Marco Polo tea for 9 euros. There’s a restaurant-tea salon inside, but it’s too expensive for my pocketbook.

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Directly across the road is the outstanding La Maison du Chocolat (there are other locations around the city.) If you’re a chocolate lover, these are serious cocoa confections ranging from truffles, ganaches and pralines to éclairs, macaroons and other delights. In the warm months, they make their own sorbets and ice creams. Just up the road is the famous Salle Pleyel concert hall for classical music.

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I know this district well because I worked in it for two years. It was probably one of the worst jobs I have ever had. A small French law firm, the people were execrable. Not only was I harassed weekly by one of the senior partners, I was totally exploited and underpaid. Along with my regular tasks, I was expected to translate long legal documents, but received no status or recognition as a translator. The upside was the Parc Monceau located right beside the building. Small and romantic, it’s my most favorite park. If you come to Paris, you should definitely visit it. Abutting the park are two small museums, the Cernuschi (museum of Asian arts) and the Nissim de Camondo (an elegant Belle Epoque mansion housing a museum with 18th-century French furniture and decorative arts.) During those two years, when I wasn’t sitting on a park bench during my lunch hour, I was visiting these museums or striding vigorously up and down the nearby boulevards.

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The west entrance to the Parc Monceau (metro Courcelles)

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Through the park (which was packed yesterday) and out the other side onto the boulevard Malesherbes to my favorite florist.

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And then back home to make tea, eat a macaroon (or two or three), recline on my chaise longue and admire my bouquet of fragrant freesia and iris.

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Insider shopping tip: if you have cash to splash and are into gorgeous Italian clothes, there’s a small boutique on the boulevard des Courcelles that sells clothes direct from Italy. Expensive, unique and gorgeous, it’s called Cairns Donna. I go there twice a year during the big sales in January and June. 55 bd Courcelles, metro Courcelles. Across the road is the same boutique for men.

a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

See, I don’t believe this (anymore). When bad stupid people run the world, fairness does not grow the greater, it shrivels. Notice that Tolkien wrote “perhaps”, because he wasn’t entirely sure.

lunch, shopping, Saturday


One of my favorite places to rendezvous is at the fountain in the Jardin du Palais Royal. I’ve been enjoying the graceful splendor of this garden for decades.

There are restaurants and elegant shops under the arcades. Or you can just sit on a bench or chair and enjoy the sound of birdsong and the splashing fountain.

The garden is a perfect starting point for shopping and lunch. My friend, Monique, and I rendezvoused at the fountain at noon. (We met while working in the same American law firm in year 2000, and have been friends ever since. Back then, we were bilingual legal secretaries. Today, she runs her own B&B business and I work as a paralegal-translator in the legal department of an investment bank.) We headed north to the Galerie Vivienne, built in 1826. See this splendid mosaic tiled floor? It’s the original floor created by Giandomenico Facchina, an Italian mosaic artist who did much of his work in France.

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It was lunch hour, but we got waylaid by some linen clothes in a boutique called Manuelle Guibal. We chatted awhile with the woman who worked there. She gave me the name of a boutique in Lisbon where I can find the same clothes. (I’m going there in June.) See my Portugal travel posts.

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We then headed towards the Place des Victoires where I wanted to visit the English boutique that I visit and rave over in London, The Designers Guild. This one had just opened. It was a lot smaller and, I’m sorry to say, the customer service didn’t hold a candle to the service you’d get in London.

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Directly across the road was this restaurant where we sat at an outdoor table. I ordered a tomato mozzarella salad and a tiny glass of wine, Monique ordered a sort of grilled chicken niçoise salad.

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When you think that you can buy a decent bottle of French wine for 6 euros and you’re charged 6 euros for a tiny glass, it’s a little bit scandalous. But this is the price you pay for the privilege of eating in a chic Parisian neighborhood.

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Speaking of chic, directly around the corner and located on the Place des Victoires is this gorgeous little boutique where I’ve been shopping for decades.

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Upon entering, we spied a bunch of gorgeous scarves. Italian made, some were silk, some were a blend of silk and modal. A type of rayon, modal is a bio-based textile made from the beechwood tree. Modal fabric feels silky-soft on the skin yet is hard-wearing and colorfast when dyed.

A woman can never have enough scarves, is my opinion. Again, we spent a long while talking to the friendly saleswoman and trying on scarves. 

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I ended up taking these last two photos of myself in the mirror because no-one could figure out how to work my camera. Sigh. I always end up doing everything myself. The scarf I ended up buying – half silk, half modal – is a gorgeous swirl of mauves, greens, pinks and yellows. It’s lightweight, soft and warm and you can scrunch it up (great for travelling.)

Our last stop was Dehillerin, the kitchenware store located off the rue du Louvre. I was in search of a strainer, called une passoire in French.

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This shop used to be, and still is, a wholesaler for restaurants. Before tourists discovered it, it was a sleepy dusty place. Now it’s super-popular and has a new lease on life.

Trump: the human wrecking ball

Trump, the human wrecking ball, swinging back and forth destroying things. And that is fitting because it is what he did in his previous career. He demolished buildings, oftentimes historic and beautiful ones, only to erect garish monoliths in their place (with the name TRUMP stamped all over.)

Fifth Avenue Bonwit Teller: Opulence Lost (from The New York Times) – “To build his signature Trump Tower, he first had to knock down the Bonwit Teller building. Designed in 1929 as the Stewart & Company store, it had an entranceway that was a stupendously luxurious mix of limestone, bronze, platinum and hammered aluminum. The face of the building featured two huge Art Deco friezes that the Metropolitan Museum of Art wanted to preserve. The museum asked Trump to save the sculptures and donate them, and the mogul agreed – as long as the cost of doing so wasn’t too high.”

“But then Trump discovered that taking out the sculptures would delay demolition by two weeks. He wasn’t willing to wait. On his orders, the demolition workers cut up the grillwork with acetylene torches. Then they jackhammered the friezes, dislodged them with crowbars, and pushed the remains inside the building, where they fell to the floor and shattered in a million pieces. The art world was shocked.”

And now, like a puerile, perverse, oversized and orange-haired Dennis the Menace, he has wrecked the Iran deal. Why? Because his intention is to unravel much, if not all, of Barack Obama’s legacy.

Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran deal could place the lives of Americans – and people around the world – in danger.

Never has the USA had such a visionless, backward-looking, unsophisticated and just plain mean President as Trump, a man utterly unqualified for the job. Listening to Hubert Védrine on the radio yesterday, here’s one thing out of many that he said – “Trump and his cohorts will never forgive Iran for 1979.”

Adviser to Presidents, Védrine was France’s Foreign Minister from 1997 to 2002. Known for his candor, when Védrine speaks, people listen. (Sometimes too candid, what he says is not generally printed in the world press). Here are some other nuggets from yesterday’s radio interview on France Inter

  • This deal illustrates the real world which is the strategic alignment between the American Neoconservatives and Israel’s Likud party, the same doctrine and the same politics which led us into the Iraq war in 2003.
  • The argument of Trump to claim that Iran organizes terrorism today is to exonerate the Sunni forces of terrorism (financed by Saudi Arabia Wahhabism.)
  • The United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel do not want Iran to return to the international game. They want Iran to fall.
  • Trump is a selfish, brutal utilitarian who does not care about the external repercussions of his decisions.

The bottom line is that the American President is being used by nefarious hard-liners, warmongers and ultra-conservative zealots inside and outside of the USA.

He has succeeded in one thing: tarnishing the image of America worldwide. Now, when we see Americans abroad, we sort of feel sorry for them. This was not the case before.

If opposition parties don’t get their acts together, Trump could well serve a second term.

Here are two articles to read: in The Guardian, The Iran deal: how Trump’s actions could flare violence in the Middle East, and in Foreign Policy, Here’s What to Expect Now That Trump has Withdrawn from the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Read them and weep.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/09/iran-deal-how-trump-actions-could-flare-violence-in-middle-east

Here’s What to Expect Now That Trump Has Withdrawn From the Iran Nuclear Deal

suddenly summer…

 

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The weather was perfect this weekend, especially Saturday. Brilliant sunshine and warm with a cool breeze blowing all day. What a pleasure to escape the congestion of Paris, take the train up to Lille and slow down to the gentler rhythm of the North. Lille is only 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Belgian border.

It turned out that my six year old godson did not enjoy the new Peter Rabbit movie. “Je n’aime pas les animaux,” he said. (I don’t like animals.) I guess we’ll just have to wait out this new not-liking-animals phase. So off we went in the sunshine to his favorite park, me grateful that he still likes parks.

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It was packed. He spent the next few hours playing with the other kids and then we were joined by other members of his family. Back to the house for pizza, cold beer and red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. Yum.

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The next morning, Sunday, was as beautiful as the day before. Too nice to stay indoors! Slinging my camera over my shoulder, I slipped outside and walked briskly to the Sunday morning market in the Wazemmes district. It’s vast, popular and extremely crowded (best to go early.) Using their back door, I ducked into my favorite specialty shop to buy rosewater and orange blossom water (for cakes and desserts) and some halloumi, a briny firm Cypriot cheese, made from a mixture of goat and sheep milk (delicious fried and in salads.) And then, as I headed toward the massive crowd to venture further into the marketplace, it suddenly got very very hot and my left knee started to ache. I decided that I didn’t have the energy to tackle the crowds (plus I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink yet), so I walked back in the heat, careful to stay in the shade.

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Gagging for coffee, I burst into the apartment and headed straight for the espresso machine. While I knocked back a double shot, my friends made me a large café au lait and toasted some slices of delicious multigrain bread. I slathered them (the toast, not my friends) with butter. And then the little one appeared, wrapped in an oversized terrycloth bathrobe.

“Tata Juliet,” he said decisively, “Today I want to go to McDonald’s and then to the park.”

“OK,” I said.

“I’ll just do my hair and get dressed. And then we can go.”

Do his hair? In French it’s “je vais me coiffer” which sounds very sophisticated coming out of the mouth of a little boy who has only been six for a week. But then again, his mother is a hairdresser …

Ten minutes later I go into the bathroom to find him standing on a stool in front of the mirror “coiffing” his hair with gel. He’s in fact imitating his two older brothers, aged 15 and 17, who do the same.

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I love this gel, he says. Can we take it to the park?
No, we cannot, I say firmly.

So back outside, now it’s broiling hot. Off he marches down the road (like a little Napoleon), me following. Thankfully, McDonald’s is air conditioned. He orders his Happy Meal.

Once seated, I ask ‘Is this your breakfast?’ He nods, his mouth full of hamburger. It seems to be an odd sort of breakfast, but I say nothing.

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And then back to the park where he meets his friends and I sit on a bench in the shade of a chestnut tree.

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