Sempé is dead

The beloved French illustrator, Jean-Jacques Sempé, died this Thursday at age 89. Born in Bordeaux in 1932, he was known for his “Little Nicolas” series of French children’s books and his New Yorker magazine covers.

The headline in today’s Le Monde newspaper (English version) – Cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé, who could make the world giggle, has died.

His death was announced to the Agence France-Presse by his wife, Martine Gossieaux Sempé. According to Sempé’s biographer Marc Lecarpentier, he died at a holiday home while away from his residence in Paris. He comments: ‘Jean-Jacques Sempé died peacefully on Thursday night … in his summer home, surrounded by his wife and close friends.‘ The artist died just a few days before his 90th birthday which falls on August 17th.

President Macron twitted (tweeted? twittered?) –

Le jazz, la tendre ironie, la délicatesse de l’intelligence. Du Petit Nicolas, en passant par Monsieur Lambert jusqu’aux promeneurs de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Jean-Jacques Sempé avait l’élégance de toujours rester léger sans que rien ne lui échappe.

Translation: Jazz, tender irony, the delicacy of intelligence. From Petit Nicolas, via Monsieur Lambert to the walkers of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Jean-Jacques Sempé had the elegance of always remaining light without anything escaping him.

Like le petit Nicolas, we are all orphans now.

going to the theatuh, dahling

I haven’t left yet. It being August, my office colleagues are away on vacation and I’m holding the fort. I leave Saturday morning. My Californian friend, Lori, who’s a theater buff, asked if I was planning to see live theater while in London. I replied that I preferred going to art museums and photo exhibitions. And then I started thinking …

I’ve seen some wonderful London theater productions in the past: John Malkovich in the David Mamet production, Bitter Wheat. Holly Hunter in By the Bog of Cats. Juliet Stevenson (an English actress) in The Heretic. But I’ve never seen the great British actors on stage: Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Colin Firth, Jeremy Irons, Gary Oldman, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Kenneth Branagh, or my personal heartthrob, D.D.L. (can you guess who he is?) He’s been my secret valentine for a long time.

So I started googling to see what the current London plays are. And I found this one. It’s about siblings squabbling over inheritance. Gosh, that’s a topic I know well; I could write my own play on the subject. I’ll buy myself a ticket. (Actually, I won’t. I just looked at the prices …)

“I’m so excited to return to the London stage with Theresa’s blistering new dark comedy” said Harbour. “It features two of my favourite things: the abyss of madness that lies at the pit of every family as they stare blankly, incomprehensively into the nature of our fleeting existence, and real estate.”

off to London

Fingers crossed that my Eurostar train won’t be affected by the current rail strikes in England.

I love London. In fact, I’ve loved London my whole life (and have lived and worked there on two separate occasions.) I often wonder how my life would be different had I chosen to settle there instead of here. For sure, London is HUGE, and far more expensive. Because of its size (population 9,541,000, wow!!), compared to puny Paris (2.14 million), it seems more international and multi-ethnic. Had I decided to settle in London instead of Paris, I guess I wouldn’t be the bilingual woman I am today. And I wouldn’t have experienced all my ‘French adventures’, but English ones instead. Somehow ‘English adventures’ don’t sound as titillating as ‘French adventures’.

Having said that, it’s a fantastic city to visit. From Paris, the high-speed Eurostar gets you there in two hours and 17 minutes (35 of those minutes are in a tunnel which runs beneath the English Channel and connects northern France to southern England.)

Arriving at St. Pancras station, London.

As I said, I’ve loved London my whole life (my parents were English, and I’ve been going there since I was a child.)

London enthralled me. I felt as though I were standing at the intersection of great history, great literature and the great modern English language, a long line of writers, playwrights and poets stretching behind. I registered with a secretarial agency, and within a week was sent out on temporary assignments. Each mission presented new boroughs and districts, all different and thrillingly diverse. I worked in a literary agency in Clerkenwell, a college in the middle of Regent’s Park, an insurance company in Covent Garden, and an investment bank in The City. I loved the freedom and flexibility of temping. I found the English lovely and considerate, their customs quaint and charming, like the office tea lady who, twice a day, came round pushing a trolley with cakes, biscuits, currant buns, and a large urn filled with tea. The happiest sounds of the day were the clinking of chinaware and the rattle of metal wheels as the tea lady rolled the cart out the lift and down the corridor. It was our signal to stretch our legs and gather round for a chat and a mug of tea.

Sugar, luv? Nah, you’re sweet enough.

London was an odyssey, a string of euphoric discoveries, and I was a happy explorer, my curiosity insatiable. A map lover, I’d study the sprawl of the Underground, the vast train network that snakes beneath the nation’s capital. There are eleven multicolored lines, and some of the stations read like fictional destinations in a storybook: Maida Vale, Angel, Parsons Green, Piccadilly Circus, St John’s Wood, Seven Sisters, Shepherd’s Bush, Swiss Cottage, Tooting Bec, White City. To me, London was more than a geographical destination; it was the backdrop to my favorite children’s fantasy novels.

Long ago, while strolling down the Bayswater Road with my mother, we passed a stretch of Victorian terraced houses that overlooked Kensington Gardens. I was seven or eight.

“Look,” she said, stopping on the pavement, “One of these is the Darling house.”

Rapt and rooted to the sidewalk, I looked upwards towards the top-floor windows, trying to imagine which one Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and the pajama-clad Wendy, John and Michael had flown out of, on their way to Neverland. “Second star to the right, and straight on ′til morning.”

Oliver Twist. One Hundred and One Dalmations. A Bear called Paddington. Madeline in London. A Little Princess. They were all there, my imaginary childhood friends, roving the streets and squares, prancing in the parks and flying over rooftops. As for Mary Poppins, did Cherry Tree Lane really exist? Years later I looked it up in my A-Z street atlas, but couldn’t see it (which doesn’t mean it isn’t there.)

An excerpt from my memoir, An Accidental Parisian. Copyrighted material.

For those new to this blog, go up to the top and click on LONDON to read a collection of my previous posts on that city.


Simone de Beauvoir

Below is a rare television video of de Beauvoir being interviewed by journalist, Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber.

de Beauvoir died of pneumonia in 1986 at the age of 78. (Her full name was Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir.) You can visit her tombstone in Montparnasse Cemetery, next to her companion and intellectual equal, Jean-Paul Sartre.


de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is considered a foundational work in the history of feminism. The work has had a profound influence, opening the way for second-wave feminism in the USA, Canada, Australia, and around the world. Future feminist authors all acknowledged their profound debt to de Beauvoir, visiting her in France and consulting with her at crucial moments. Betty Friedan, author of the 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, said that she looked to de Beauvoir for philosophical and intellectual authority. (WIKI)

FROM MY BOOK (a short excerpt)

“Growing up in Canada, I took it for granted that Europe would be as enlightened as my home country with regard to gender parity and feminist activism. I was wrong. From the outside, France appeared to be an avant-garde society, but upon closer inspection I found it to be terribly traditional and conservative. The book that I had read when I was sixteen – Simone de Beauvoir’s groundbreaking opus in modern feminist theory, The Second Sex, written in 1949 – had done nothing to modify the archaic vision of society there. Madame de Beauvoir was decades ahead of her time.”

IT BEGGARS BELIEF that in this 1975 video, de Beauvoir talks about the importance of a woman’s right to abortion (and mentions the name of Simone Veil, Minister of Health, who pushed through the abortion bill in France, also in 1975) while – leap forward 47 years – the US Supreme Court overturned Roe and ended the constitutional right to abortion. The word “regression” barely describes this bombshell.

So pour yourself a glass of wine (or coffee if it’s morning) and sit back and listen to this edifying conversation.


the lovely, leafy 12th arrondissement

If I were to start my life over again in Paris, I’d live in the 12th. I really like it. My friend just bought an apartment there, so I went over yesterday evening for a visit. Afterwards, we went to my favorite bistro for dinner.

It was pleasant strolling the boulevards at 6:30 pm on a warm midsummer July evening. Quiet, because most Parisians are away on summer vacation. Paris in the summer, especially August when it’s really quiet, is nice. I also like discovering new neighborhoods. I stumbled across this gleaming white campus of Sorbonne Nouvelle University, opened in 2020 and an adjunct to the historic Sorbonne in the 5th arrondissement. Like other distinguished learning centers in France, the Sorbonne is an affordable public university. (Higher education for all!)

My friend’s new apartment has an attractive ceramic fireplace in the ‘salon’ (living room). I’m guessing it’s over a hundred years old if it’s part of the original building. Haussmannian apartment buildings were constructed from the mid to end 19th century.

Many Parisian kitchens, remodelled, are small. Love that green tile.

We chatted, drank water because it’s warm out, and I gave him a copy of my new book whose colors matched, sort of, his coffee table.

Then we walked the streets to the neighboring 11th arrondissement to my favorite bistro, Paul Bert. The prices have risen since the last time I was there.

A light Loire to accompany our simple meal of parmentier, green salad and a shared dish of fries. Nothing exciting, just simple French fare. A parmentier (hachis Parmentier) would be called Shepherd’s pie or cottage pie in Britain, a savory dish of cooked minced meat (beef or lamb) topped with mashed potato and baked.

To start, I had a cold green bean salad with tiny croutons and my friend a medley of sliced vegetables.

And the best for last … dessert! Paul Bert bistro makes the best crème caramels … huge, firm and not too sweet. The mother of crème caramels, I said to my friend. In Spain, that would be called a flan, he replied.

Look at this beauty in all its silky, syrupy splendor. My friend had an île flottante (floating island) which consists of meringue floating in a pool of custard. I’ve never cared for that dessert.

As readers to this blog know, I’ve had many satisfying meals at Paul Bert. Here’s a blog post written about a fun evening spent there with two women friends – Beth from Toronto and Rosemary from London – way back in 2014 when I first discovered their crème caramel –

dinner at Paul Bert bistro

gigantic new triangular tower in the center of Paris that local residents don’t want

It has two names: the Triangle tower and the Toblerone tower (because its shape resembles the triangular chunks of the Swiss chocolate bar.) But whatever you call it, most Parisians don’t want it, especially those living in the 15th arrondissement near the Porte de Versailles. Funnily enough, the architecture firm that designed the tower is Swiss.

An investment of 700 million euros, the tower will be 42 floors high and will house a four-star hotel, offices, shared workspace (“coworking”), a health center and cultural space, street-level shops and a panoramic restaurant on the top floor. It will be the first tall building built in the city of Paris since the 1973 Tour Montparnasse.

Those against the project state the following reasons – Visual pollution, not ecological, a traffic nightmare, it will destroy the harmony of the neighborhood, an environmental disaster and “We’re not New York”.

an architectural visualization (Herzog & de Meuron)

From WIKI – Critics of the Tour Triangle opposed the project because of its controversial height. The 42-story project is to be the first skyscraper to be built in low-rise Paris in approximately 40 years since the construction of the Tour Montparnasse, the scale of the latter which still provokes animosity amongst Parisians.

It’s true. Low-rise Paris is not high-rise Manhattan. This is why La Défense – Europe’s largest business district with 72 modern buildings and skyscrapers in which a quarter of a million people work everyday (I am one of those workers) – was conscientiously constructed in its own “park” in the west end of the city.

To see the high office buildings and green spaces of La Défense, read the blog post below that I wrote exactly 3 years ago in July 2019. Back then, we were blissfully unaware of a disease called Covid. If someone had told the people in the blog photos that in exactly one year a global pandemic will cause more than eight million cases of infection and approximately 450,000 deaths worldwide by July 2020 alone, they’d look at you in astonishment. But that’s what happened.

food trucks at La Défense


what to eat during a heatwave

Tomorrow (Tuesday) will be the worst day at 40°C/104°F. (It went up to 42°C. Walking home from work at 6:30 pm was like crossing the Sahara Desert. At one point I thought I was going to faint; I had to sit on a shaded bench for awhile but even that was too hot. Clutching my water bottle, I staggered home in the scorching air.) Now I’m at home, windows closed, shutters down and two large fans blowing at cross-currents. No one I know in France has air conditioning in their home. My office, thank goodness, has A/C. This is a very short heatwave, nothing like the killer one of August 2003 that lasted two weeks and killed 15,000 people, most of them elderly.

The 2003 European heat wave led to the hottest summer on record in Europe since at least 1540. France was hit especially hard. 

Back then, I was working two jobs: days in a French law firm, nights in a British law firm. The day-job building had no A/C and the elevator broke down because of the heat. Every weekday at 5:30 pm, I’d sprint up the Champs-Elysées in the suffocating heat and dust, leaving my day job for my night job. Those were not glamorous times.

Eat only cold foods during a heatwave. My favorite tomato-mozza-basil-white onion salad, for example –

 Cold pasta with home-made pesto and lots of water –


Alcohol isn’t recommended, but one small glass of a light rosé shouldn’t hurt (well-chilled) –

A fresh berry smoothie with cold nut or skim milk?

Or how about a large quinoa salad filled with fresh crunchy vegetables, chick peas and herbs?

The Mistress of the House of Books – my first book review

Instagram themistressofbooks

I stumbled, as one does while googling, across this website that greatly appealed to me. I liked its aesthetic: sparse and clean, and at the same time chock-a-block with super interesting books, podcast recommendations, reviews and reflections (and more.) I’m happy to say that my memoir is now on this website, and I’m honored to be among such bookish company. Thank you, Molli!  Molli, a freelancer living and working in Paris, is the co-founder of The Mistress of the House of Books.

Here’s the link below (I’m on the far left) –


In Paris, two good addresses to share, and the Tuileries Gardens

Should you find yourself in front of the Gare du Nord (and you will if you’re taking any train north, including the Eurostar to London), pop into the new Carton, lauded for winning first prize in the 2022 best butter croissant contest in greater Paris.

Everything in this shop is exquisite … and reasonably priced too. When I take the Saturday morning train up to Lille, I order a continental breakfast for only 5 euros 90. Orange juice, espresso, half a baguette, a generous portion of butter and jam. Delicious.

Japantown offers a large choice of restaurants, and last night my godson and I found a pearl of a place that I will definitely return to.

Sit up at the bar so you can watch the sushi chef at work.  YOU restaurant, 56 Rue Sainte-Anne,75002 Paris. Rue Sainte-Anne is the epicenter of Japantown, also called Little Tokyo, with its Asian restaurants, grocers, shops, bakeries, and more.

Here’s the grocery store, K MART, stocked full of Korean and Japanese products. We went in and I purchased two bottles of soy sauce – one reduced-salt, the other sweet – and some Japanese candies that looked like Fruitella.

After our meal of tempura and sushi, we strolled down the avenue de l’Opéra, turned right onto the rue St. Honoré and left onto the rue Saint-Roch towards the Tuileries Gardens. Very much in vogue right now is this exterior ornamentation that graces many cafés and bistros around the city. Great bunches of colorful fake flowers.

It was still bright out at 9 pm. The rue de Rivoli and the Tuileries Gardens below.

If you could see the leaves of these magnificent, not to mention historic, horse chestnut, plane, elm and oak trees, you’d weep. Mottled gray with burnt leaf tips and scabs, they’ve been coated with air pollutants for so long they’re completely damaged. We sat on a stone bench and talked about the ravages of air pollution. “If I were mayor of Paris,” said my 10-year-old godson, “I’d ban all normal cars, trucks and motorcycles and impose only electric ones.”

Let’s fire all the adults and put kids in charge. After all, it’s their future.