today, at precisely 6:50 pm, bells rang out across the country

Rouen. Strasbourg. Bordeaux. Versailles. Dijon. Marseille. Toulouse. Amiens, to name a few. All across the nation and in solidarity with their wounded sister in Paris, the majestic cathedrals of France rang their bells simultaneously at precisely 6:50 pm, the time that fire broke out on Monday. What a beautiful idea.



Filmed a few years ago and featuring a dishy Englishman, here’s an interesting 10-minute guided tour inside Notre-Dame cathedral.


the burning of Notre-Dame


good pic notre dame burning

AFP-Getty Images

One thing I’ve always liked about the French is their discretion vis-à-vis their (Catholic) faith. I appreciate this because religion is a deeply personal matter and should, in my opinion, remain private and unobtrusive in the public sphere.

But this morning at the office you could feel the raw emotion and désarroi in the air. Many of my French Catholic colleagues were visibly very upset. Clusters of them gathered in corners and around espresso machines to speak of last night’s tragedy, quietly at first and then louder. Being neither Catholic nor French, I respectfully stayed at my desk and did not encroach on their space. But I listened (the office is open plan.) Here’s what I heard (translated):

But I was there, just the day before at the same hour! I had gone to evening Mass with my mother to celebrate Palm Sunday.

Were you shaken? Mais, évidemment, c’est une catastrophe !

I watched the spire fall, and it was as if an arrow had pierced my heart.

I was coming out of the boulangerie at around 6:50 pm and I saw smoke at the end of the street. I stood paralyzed with shock. Notre Dame is in my parish, you know.

Well, I don’t believe for a second it was accidental. During the week of Easter? No, it’s too coincidental. Notre Dame? It’s a symbol of France and of Christianity. One minute it’s there, and then – pof ! – tout en flammes (up in flames.)

What are you saying, that it was a conspiracy? Yes, I think it was the Freemasons.

Have you read Naomi Klein’s book, La Stratégie du Choc? (The Shock Doctrine). She writes about conspiracies.

Who’s Naomi Klein? She’s an American author. (“No she isn’t, she’s Canadian!” I wanted to shout. But I kept my mouth shut.)

 Mais c’est Victor Hugo qui l’a sauvé avec son roman! (But it was Victor Hugo who saved the cathedral with his novel!)


Later, over coffee, I asked Jean-Philippe what he meant about Victor Hugo’s novel saving Notre Dame. He explained that when Haussmann was busy transforming Paris from the mid to late 1800s, he wanted to raze Notre Dame to make room for his famous boulevards. In protestation, Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame. “Haven’t you read the book?” J-P asked me. I replied that I hadn’t. “Well, maybe you’ve seen the musical somewhere?” he insisted. “No, I hate musicals.” I replied.

And then another of my colleagues, originally from Lebanon and of Christian faith, came in wearing his habitual suit and tie. He’s a jokester by nature, and usually keeps us laughing all day. But this morning something was different. And then we noticed his tie: it was entirely black.

Je suis en deuil.’ (I’m in mourning), he said solemnly, and no one laughed.

As for me, I was sitting in a pizzeria last night while sirens wailed across the city. “Gosh, I wonder what’s going on?” I said to my two friends. We were completely unaware of the catastrophe unfolding a mere mile away. We had earlier gone to an exhibition at the Grand Palais called La Lune (The Moon.) A disappointment.

IF YOU WISH TO MAKE A DONATION TO REBUILD NOTRE-DAME, the website is below. It is a government site from the Ministry of Culture as well as the Center of National Monuments. In the space of 24 hours, France has already received 750 million Euros in donations.

fire two

Notre-Dame stained glass intact after the fire


Saturday night pizza


I’m on a pizza kick, pizza that I make myself. It’s so easy! And fun because each pie is different depending on what ingredients you have in the larder. I may never buy frozen again!


This one is vegetarian with red onion, garlic, tomato sauce, rocket (arugula) and grated gruyère cheese. Delicious! (I later learned that if you’re a purist, you’ll only use parmesan.)


Google “Jamie Oliver’s pizza dough recipe”, which is what I use. You can halve it.

My tips – don’t go wild (like I did the first time) and overload your pizza. Keep it simple and light. I mix two different flours: white and wholewheat. If you have an organic supermarket near you, buy organic flours…so much better than industrial. I use either a round cake tin (lightly oiled on the bottom with olive oil) or a flat baking tray (oiled). One of these days I’ll get around to buying a proper pizza pan.


Two other tips – go easy on the tomato sauce (I use ordinary spaghetti sauce from a jar). Too much will bog the crust down and ruin it, a super-thin layer of sauce is all you need. Slide your pie into a pre-heated, super-hot oven (230°C / 446°F). That way it cooks faster and crispier.

Here are some topping ideas:

shrimp, tuna, anchovies, chorizo, ham, bacon, pancetta, ground beef or bresola;

artichoke hearts, red onion, red or yellow peppers, garlic, olives, rocket (arugula), fresh basil leaves;

thinly sliced potato, rocket, yam, mushrooms, basically any vegetable;

mozzarella, goat’s cheese, ricotta, pecorino, parmesan, gruyère, cheddar…basically any cheese (unless you’re a purist whereby you’ll only use parmesan.)

Rome, anyone?

To roam in Rome

In anticipation of my trip to Rome next month, I’m starting to compile lists and addresses of ‘best pizza in Rome’, ‘best gelato and pastries’, ‘best markets, museums’, etc. (The last time I was in Rome was about 15 years ago.) And then I stumbled across this New York Times travel vid and thought it was pretty cool. See for yourself!

Here’s another one, more pedantic, but beautifully filmed –

city noises of Lille

SUNDAY – I slept until 10 this morning. Earlier, around 6 am, I was awakened by a chattering congregation of birds, predominant amongst them a cooing sound. ‘Doves?’ I remember thinking before falling asleep again. What kind of bird, other than a dove, makes a cooing sound?

The sound of church bells awakened me again at 10 am. 

In my Paris apartment all I hear are scooters, motorcycles, drunkards, people talking loudly on their cell phones, people sitting in their cars talking through amplified speaker systems (my apartment overlooks a dusty noisy street.)

My nerves are frazzled, and I constantly crave quiet. At the office I work in an open space, a noisy one. I don’t know whose idea it was to place the Legal Department in the middle of the Sales Department, but that’s where I am.

This morning in Lille I walked the 20 minutes to the large Sunday market called Wazemmes. It’s a huge outdoor market, principally Arab. “Can I take Soso with me?” I asked his mother. “No,” she replied, “Too many people.” And she’s right. If you don’t like crowds, you should avoid Wazemmes on a Sunday morning. But I like it because there are bargains to be had, and it’s lively and convivial. I bought a large bottle of orange flower water for 1 euro (in Paris it costs 7 euros), a bunch of socks made from bamboo fiber, two boxes of Turkish Delight, and some pastries.

“How was it?” my friends asked when I returned to the apartment. “Like taking a trip to Morocco.” I said.

Just before leaving to catch my 5 pm train back to Paris, I was sitting on the bed in one of the children’s bedrooms. Soso was standing in front of the mirror making faces at himself. “I”m leaving now,” I said to him, “The next time I see you, you’ll be seven years old.” After a pause, I added, “You’ll never be six ever again.”

He thought about this for a few seconds, then said – “I’ll miss being six.”

His idol of the moment is Kamil Majestic, child rap singer and winner of The Voice Kids.


intermittent fasting and the lovely Dominique Sachse

High cholesterol levels and excess weight has led me to explore different ways of eating. I like the idea of intermittent fasting. Dominique will explain it to you. I warmed to her immediately because of her morning coffee habit (exactly like mine.) I too am drinking less cow’s milk and more vegetal milks (almond, cashew, soy, etc.) Note: it’s easy to make your own almond-cashew milk, which I sometimes do on the weekend. Mixed with a small amount of organic coconut milk and added to a mug of strong hot coffee is something I look forward to all week. Mondays to Friday at the office, I drink black unsugared espresso from my own small Nespresso machine that sits on the windowsill five feet from my desk.

I stumbled across Dominique while looking for something, can’t remember what, on YouTube. I think she’s great. The video below shows us what she eats in a day. My takeaway was that we need to drastically cut back on “white foods”, AKA refined carbohydrates (anything made from white flour: bread, pasta, pastries, rice, cakes, cookies, cereals, etc., .)