French toast, and pre-Christmas pics

The idea of eating French toast in France makes me laugh. Why? Because the French don’t know what it is (and why should they?) Bread dipped in a mixture of egg, milk and cinnamon then fried in a skillet, powdered with icing sugar and doused with maple syrup? Quoi? Huh?

Now that I think about it, why do we call it French toast? In any case, that’s what I had for breakfast on this gray and gloomy December morning. Yesterday, I went to my local boulangerie and purchased two “pains au lait” (literally, milk bread, but they’re just long rolls, sort of like a brioche but unsweetened.) Its best to use slightly stale bread to make your French toast. As for maple syrup, I could drink the stuff straight from the bottle. My local supermarket, Monoprix, sells Canadian maple syrup for 5 euros only.

This was a bestselling book, but I’m undecided whether I liked it or not.

I haven’t a clue if my train to Lille tomorrow is cancelled or confirmed. Every time I go onto the SNCF website to check, all I see are ominous messages warning passengers to cancel or postpone their travel plans. Mere days before Christmas while millions are travelling cross-country to spend the holidays with friends and family, I find this deplorable. President Macron is also under fire, of course. Why would he launch his pension reform just before Christmas? He knew there’d be pushback. It’s also being said that the current pension scheme is perfectly adequate and doesn’t need reforming.

Tomorrow morning and despite the closure of a dozen metro lines, I’ll somehow get myself to the train station and wing it. In the meantime, I’m in chill mode at home (and on vacation until January 2nd.)



candlit roomlights chez toi


Verona, Italy

Verona, Italy

Bolu, Turkeysnowy river pathice berriessapin against wallreindeer-sleigh-ride Laplandlapland-slide-GEHY-articleLarge

in December I went to Antwerp …

I have nothing to report other than I (and a million other people) am awaiting an email or SMS from the SNCF (the French national railway) confirming or cancelling my train reservations over the Christmas period. The strikes continue. I have just received an email from the SNCF confirming my return trip from Lille to Paris, but not my outbound trip (Paris to Lille.) ????  How can I return from Lille if I can’t get to Lille?

In December 2013 I went to Antwerp, Belgium and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I wish I were there now. I rented a small furnished flat in the Old Town which turned out to be super-cozy, warm and quiet. The museum I visited, the hot chocolate I drank and the fashion boutiques I visited were all highlights.

Take a look!

a boozy, pre-birthday dinner at my favorite bistro

This is my favorite restaurant, hands down. I’ve been going for years, and not once have I been disappointed. Last night – in the midst of the transportation strikes crippling the country – I rode a crowded metro across town to the 11th arrondissement. It’s that time again (what? already?): my upcoming birthday to be shared with my fellow Capricorn friend who is Swedish. We’ve both been living, working and celebrating in Paris for a long time. After a bottle of champagne at his place with his friend, M – also a Capricorn, but a January one – we wended our way through the darkened streets to Bistrot Paul Bert.

The wine list is superlative here, all the French regions are represented. It was an evening “bien arrosé” as the French say, which means well-watered. We started with a Fitou Bel Soula from the Languedoc region: an easy-drinking red with an agreeable fruity nose and red fruit flavors. I ordered marrow bone as my starter. A had a generous slice of foie gras with chutney and M had in-season fresh scallops.

For the main course, A and I shared a massive slab of beef served with their delicious fries. M had something far more original and ambitious: a famous dish called lièvre à la royale. Lièvre is not rabbit, but hare.

No, it’s not chocolate sauce, but rather a complex blend of liver, heart, innards, foie gras, blood and other things. It’s funny how French people will dig heartily into this kind of dish, whereas the non-French (including myself) tend to shun them. Blood and giant rabbits don’t appeal to me at all. The second wine we drank was even better than the first: from the Languedoc region again, more specifically a small appellation in the foothills of the Cevennes Mountains named Faugère, it was an organic red called Les Fusionels Le Reve. Ruby-colored with floral notes, it was far more ambitious than the previous wine; balanced and elegant. I’m definitely going to look for this in my local wineshop.

And this is what makes Paul Bert a good restaurant: we had ordered a different wine, but our server said “No, that won’t go with what you’re eating.” She went to consult with someone and came back with the Faugère proposition.

For dessert I had warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream and M had a Grand Marnier soufflé.

And voilà: another year has passed. Thanks for following it with me.

Hermès vintage sale next week at Drouot auction house


Hermès: the nec plus ultra of elegance. Because this sale is vintage, I’m going to go. It takes place at Drouot auction house on Monday December 16th.

DROUOT auction house is located in the center of Paris in the 9th arrondissement; it’s a great place for people-watching (and for looking at the sale items, of course.) There’s a permanent buzz at Drouot – all the sale rooms are open to the public.

Here’s the Hermès Kelly bag, named after Grace Kelly, of course. There are quite a few in this sale.

Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco

And here’s the iconic Birkin bag, smaller and with two handles instead of one, named after English actress-singer Jane Birkin, best known for her relationship with Serge Gainsbourg in the 1970s. Years later, though, Jane asked the Hermès fashion house to rename the bag due to the cruel practice of killing crocodiles for the production of the handbags.

There’ll be lots of Hermès scarves at this sale, the famous silk ‘carré‘ (square): all in vibrant colors and patterns. These are estimated at 100 to 120 euros which is a bargain considering brand new squares start at 300 euros and go up to 900 euros. People will go to this sale for the scarves alone. And I’m thinking that what with Christmas and my birthday coming up, one of these would make a nice gift to myself.

The shoes below are estimated at 100 to 120 euros. Unheard of for Hermès footwear.

A collection of silver bracelets in the signature anchor chain (chaine d’ancre) –

Look for yourself at all the items in Monday’s sale. You can bid by telephone.

A holiday gift guide

The beginning of my list springs from last week’s Black Friday sales during which I purchased a bunch of skincare-beauty products. At Marionnaud cosmetic store, ALL products were 30% off. I’m not loyal to one brand, I like trying them all: from high-end, non-organic CHANEL to Dr. Hauschka which is 100% natural to Moroccan argan oil.

Here’s my bathroom shelf featuring some of my favorite skincare products –

REN (above) is a British brand. Calling itself clean skincare (ren means clean in Swedish), there are no parabens, sulphates, mineral oil, petrolatum, synthetic fragrance or colors, etc. EKIA is a French organic skincare brand that focuses on anti-ageing products.

The Hydra Beauty moisturizing cream by CHANEL has a divine fragrance, but I think I prefer the AHAVA day cream (below) that uses mineral-based compounds from the Dead Sea.

At Marionnaud I purchased this serum that I had been wanting to buy for quite a while: CLARINS Double Serum. I highly recommend it. Here’s the blurb:

The Double Serum Complete Age Control Concentrate from Clarins is an excellent skin treatment that infuses the skin with over 20 anti-aging plant extracts that claim to be all-natural. The luxurious, lightweight serum reactivates the skin’s 5 vital functions: protection, hydration, regeneration, nutrition, and oxygenation. Together, these functions work to boost radiance, collagen production, and hydration while also fighting stress, aging effects, and pollution. The end result is smoother, more supple and firmer skin.

During the winter months when the air is super-dry in my apartment, my skin feels parched. I guess I could buy a humidifier, but instead I put oil on my skin. The bottle on the right is argan oil from Morocco. Natural argan oil is wonderful for skin, hair and nails with nourishing fatty acids, antioxidants and anti-ageing Vitamin E. Apricot kernel oil is also good (avoid eye area.)

The Clarins Skin Illusion foundation is perfect: lightweight and nicely perfumed. Before, I used YSL Touche Eclat. As much as I loved it, I realized it was too thick.

This brand from New Zealand is the best (see below.) The makeup remover below cleans your face straight away. I also like their hand cream. Award-winning eco-conscious Kiwi brand supplies a range of certified organic, natural skincare and makeup products. Proudly made in New Zealand, Antipodes products boast natural formulas with pure plant fragrances inspired by New Zealand’s nature.

At the risk of sounding like a skincare-beauty product fetishist, I’ll move on.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, music and talk shows on my laptop while cooking, doing the dishes or puttering around my flat. After three years of loyal service, my Philips mini-speaker died. I happened to be in a BOSE store last week and decided to buy a mini-speaker (because it was on sale and because BOSE is supposed to be the best.) I took it home, plugged it in and didn’t like it at all. In my opinion, the sound wasn’t as good as the Philips speaker. So I returned the BOSE and got a refund (99 euros.) Then I purchased a new Philips speaker for 29 euros. The sound is superb. It’s very small, approximately 4 inches squared, and totally portable.

A battery-operated milk frother because who wants yet another electric appliance? I have so many electrical things I’m constantly tripping over wires. 12 euros. For my weekend café lattes.

GEOX GEOX GEOX – 100% Italian footwear and clothing company. J’adore!

These Geox high ankle sneakers are called Nebula 4 X 4 B ABX A.

A book. This memoir isn’t even out yet, and already it’s being posthumously lauded. Sadly, the author, a well-known Scottish journalist named Deborah Orr, died two months ago at the age of 57. She worked for The Guardian, The Independent and other publications. Ironically, Orr’s mother is at the center of the story, and the title is Motherwell, the name of the town that Deborah grew up in. The book is due out in January 2020.

MOTHERWELL is a story about a girl, a family, a time, a place. But so much more. Fearlessly, Deborah Orr works out how she was formed as she unpicks everyday dysfunction. Full of glinting pain, brilliant one-liners and utter clarity, the sliver of ice in her heart melts. Sheer humanity shines out. I was astonished. (Suzanne Moore)

A stunning literary memoir about the author’s relationship with her complicated mother and childhood.

A fierce and tender reckoning: personal, political, and blazing with truth. (Melissa Harrison)

strikes continue, this country is exhausting

Like last December, my Christmas blog posts are interrupted by violent social movements going on all around me. Last year it was the gilets jaunes, this year it’s the unions and general strikers. All I really want to talk about is Christmas: the beautiful lights and decorations, the gaily-decorated department store windows, my modestly-priced holiday gift guide that I’m compiling … But I can’t even get to the department stores because aside from the two automated metro lines, all the other lines are closed.

Yesterday (Thursday) was freezing cold and very damp. Some of my office colleagues walked for one hour and a half to get to work in the morning, and an hour and a half to go back home in the dark and the cold. Today (Friday) it is forecast to rain all day. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m lucky: I can walk to work (or take the number one metro line which is driverless and fully automated.)

Here’s a conversation I had yesterday with a colleague: “But I thought the office had organized a car-pooling scheme. Can’t you find someone who lives near you with a car?”

My colleague, who had walked an hour and a half to work: “Yes, that’s my boss who set up the car-pool thing,” (the Human Resources and Communications Department Director)

“Yeah, so, is there someone who lives near you with a car?”

“I don’t know, that information is confidential, and I don’t want to ask my boss.”

?????  Geez, I thought to myself, for the Communications department, they don’t seem to be very communicative.

It’s true that the French have never taken to the carpool concept – called covoiturage in French – preferring to drive to work alone so they can brood and glower in the solitary comfort of their car.

Below is an article in The New York Times explaining the situation, I’m too fed up to talk about it. I’m exhausted by the constant whining of the French: moan, moan, moan because they might have to work beyond 62 years of age. Moan moan moan because they haven’t put money aside in a separate retirement savings account, unlike Canadians who contribute throughout their entire working lives to an RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan), in existence since 1957. And why don’t many French people put money aside? Because they depend on the government to do everything for them, and expect their work pensions to be sufficient. The worst are the transportation strikers: some of them get to retire at 55 years of age with a nice pension. Those are the ones who are protesting the hardest, egged on by their Communist union leaders. Yes, the biggest trade union here called the CGT (Confédération générale du travail) still has links with the PCF (French Communist Party), even though they say they don’t.

Friday evening – here’s what annoys me the most: not only do the unions and protesters inconvenience an entire country by making people walk everywhere (in the freezing cold and rain), but they turn off the escalators in all of the metro stations on the number one line. Tonight after work, I had to trudge up 45 steps with a heavy knapsack on my back (wine, food and books for the weekend). I was annoyed.

the winter of French discontent, nationwide strike starts December 5th

The French are discontented. So, what else is new?

Tens of thousands of public service workers with the RATP (Paris transportation network) and SNCF (French national railway) will be striking against President Macron’s proposed reforms to pension benefits, which he says will “transform society” for the better and update a system some consider sclerotic and outdated.

Macron contends that this is necessary to balance France’s deficit and stimulate the economy; unions and other critics argue that these measures will “sacrifice a generation” of workers who have relied on the security of solid, no, let’s say ‘very generous’, pension benefits. Their concerns are shared by “yellow-vest” protestors who fear increasing precarity and decreased benefits as France aims to slash its deficit and stimulate the economy.

Beginning at 10 pm on Wednesday December 4th, but officially starting on Thursday December 5th, no one knows how long the strikes will last. Could be a few days, could be a few weeks. It is imperative that travelers to France stay informed of developments. Some predict the strikes could paralyze transportation until Christmas Day.

Unions have been warning of “zero metro and zero RER” service in Paris. Lines 1 and 14 of the Paris Metro, which are driverless and automated, are expected to run during the strike period. Buses and tramways operated by the RATP are also expected to be severely affected, with greatly reduced service during the strikes. In addition, “yellow vest” protestors have vowed to block traffic in Paris, potentially further disrupting road traffic.

Trains operated by the SNCF – from regional to national, high-speed TGV lines – may grind to a halt or near-halt as part of the action, and worry that it could lead to weeks of trains not operating at all should government fail to reach an agreement with workers.

Right now there is little concrete information on how badly Eurostar and Thalys trains between Paris, London, Amsterdam, Brussels and other international destinations will be affected by the strike.

Air France may also see workers strike, which may give travelers cause to avoid using the carrier in December.

Below are the latest OECD statistics showing the percentage of an average salary that retirees receive in eleven different countries around the world: Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, Denmark, Sweden, Greece, United States, Japan, Poland and Great Britain. After a full career, the French retirement pension represents 74% of one’s last salary; that’s less than in Spain, Portugal and Italy.

This chart below illustrates the average exit age from the labor market in these same countries. Up until 2010, the legal retirement age in France was 60 years old. Today it is 62. However, the French government is encouraging workers to stay longer in the workforce; and the French are balking at this idea. For me personally, where the average retirement age in Canada has been 65 for as long as I remember, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.