Rita Hayworth, silverscreen goddess

Let’s take a break from this coarse, brutish world and travel back to the mid-1940s of Hollywood.

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When I watched the classic 1946 film, Gilda, for the very first time just a few years ago, I was subjugated by the beauty (inside and out) of Rita Hayworth. Why it took me so long to see Gilda is beyond me, but everything about the movie blew me away, including the controlled and gritty performance from a young Glenn Ford. Gilda is the role that defined Rita Hayworth. A professional dancer too, she could hold her own in any performance. (She danced with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.)

 

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Rita and Glenn in Gilda

But what a sad personal life she had. Rita’s real name was Margarita Carmen Cansino and she started dancing at the age of 6 to support her family. Throughout her teen years she was subjected to sexual and physical abuse by her father who was also her dancing partner. She would be exploited by men for most of her life – in her personal life, her professional life and even in the onscreen characters she played. Her five failed marriages included Orson Welles and playboy Prince Aly Khan. She would maintain a lifelong friendship with Glenn Ford who played opposite her in Gilda. Her later years were marked with struggles with alcoholism, and then the disease that ultimately took her from us in 1987 at the age of 68: Alzheimer’s.

Rita and Glenn burned up the screen with sexual tension. In 1946, this was OFF THE CHARTS! And the tension was real because not only were they lovers in the film, they were also lovers in real life.

Here’s a YouTube video of extracts from Gilda –

a 3-day weekend and choco peanut butter cups

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Yup, this is my idea of bliss: a long weekend, my pantry and fridge stocked with good food (and wine), a three-day rain forecast, homemade choco-peanut butter cups on the horizon, and hunkering down to finalize 10,000 words from the draft of my soon-to-be-published memoir. My editor in London, Ardella, is awaiting those words to work on. It’s good to have a deadline and a bit of pressure. It’s good too to have a great editor.

Aside from venturing out on Saturday afternoon to return some books and DVDs to my local library, I don’t plan on going anywhere this weekend.

Why is it a long weekend? November 1st is Toussaint which means All Saints. All Saints’ Day is a Catholic festival and a statutory holiday in France. On Friday, cemeteries all over France will be frequented by flower-bearing families paying a visit to their deceased loved ones. Florists love November 1st.

I don’t know where the idea came from to make choco peanut butter cups. I think I was standing at my kitchen counter looking at a large tablet of dark chocolate and two jars of peanut butter I had just purchased – one smooth, the other chunky.

Chocolate-Peanut-Protein-Cups

I’ll do it. I’m going to combine two recipes. Here’s one from Tess Masters. Her two cookbooks, The Perfect Blend and The Blender Girl, are excellent. I purchased them in London and never tire of her inventive recipes. Here, she uses cocoa powder instead of chocolate and almond butter instead of p.b.

  • half a cup or 120 ml of liquid coconut oil
  • a quarter of a cup or 18 g of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • a quarter of a cup or 65 g of raw almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons of maple syrup
  • a quarter of a teaspoon natural salt

As optional boosters, Tess suggests an eighth of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and/or a quarter of a cup of crushed walnuts.

Throw everything into a blender or mixer and blast for 10 to 20 seconds until well combined.

Pour the mixture into silicone cupcake molds or paper baking cups set out on a tray (or in a muffin tin.) Chill in freezer for 20 to 30 minutes until solidified. Gently release them from the molds and transfer to a plate or container. Serve slightly chilled. Because of the coconut oil, the chocolates will melt if left out in room temperature.

I must say, though, that I’m wary of her use of coconut oil. She uses it because she’s a vegan (coconut oil is a substitute for butter.) There’s just too much controversy over this product for me to use it liberally. Nobody seems to know if it’s bad or beneficial. If you happen to have some and don’t want to ingest it, then use it on your hair.

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blender girl

And then, there are these two recipes, using chocolate:

https://www.veganbell.com/chocolate-peanut-butter-cups/

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018460-chocolate-peanut-butter-cups

Have a scrumptious weekend!

digitizing vintage Kodachrome slides

For decades, boxes and boxes of family slides sat on a cupboard shelf in my Paris apartment. The images span the late 1950s to the late 1990s. Just a few weeks ago I found a very good photo lab in central Paris. They digitize old slides and retouch the colors. Here’s an example: my English mother in our backyard in the early 1960s (in a Toronto suburb.) I thought the technician at the photo lab did a really good job correcting the color: look how my mother’s lipstick nearly matches the red flowers!

momm

Scanning your old collection of 35mm slides is the perfect way to preserve them and give them a new life as digital images. If I have one piece of advice to give you, it is this: if and when you find a photo lab, make sure they do the work on the premises. If they farm the stuff out to another lab, there’s the risk of your precious memories getting lost en route. That happened to me once.

baking bread, and a Friday night rant (sorry)

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When you live in this country, rants are commonplace. Why? Because a segment of the French population is intolerable, and that’s the truth. It’s almost as if they go out of their way to make your life miserable. For those of us who have been living in France a long time, we know why the gilet jaune (yellow jacket) movement gained momentum last year. We know why schoolteachers were on strike this week along with policemen and women, SNCF (train employees), retirees and countless other unions, employees and citizens. We know why there is so much anger. In a word? Contempt. Le mépris. To be treated disrespectfully and with an attitude of disdain by officials, civil servants, bosses, employers: anyone with power over you.

So where do I start? With the rant or the bread? The bread, I guess. I’m making a loaf or two this weekend. Here’s an old post I’m reposting:

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to put all the troubles of the world aside and bake some bread: dense, delicious, high-fibre rye bread. I saw the above photo, and decided it was something I kneaded (pardon the pun) to do. Not just to eat, but to make. There’s something very satisfying about making bread: mixing, kneading, letting it rise then punching it down and letting it rise a second time.

Making your own bread isn’t that difficult. Thanks to Paul Hollywood’s recipes below, he’s made it user friendly. It’s important to buy good quality organic flour, not the industrial stuff. This recipe calls for rye flour and white flour. It also calls for treacle. Treacle! I don’t even know how to say that in French. (Just looked it up, it’s mélasse, as in molasses.) Is treacle and molasses the same thing?

Anyway, sometimes it’s time to turn off the toxic news, listen to some music or a good podcast, and bake some bread. When the going gets tough, bake bread!

Enjoy!

https://www.bbc.com/food/rye_flour

https://www.bbc.com/food/chefs/paul_hollywood

My rant

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I applied for French citizenship (Brexit made me do it.) I started the long, heavy and costly administrative process a year ago. Last week I believed I had reached the end of the process. I believed that it would conclude in a positive outcome. Wrong!

2nd addendum: Brexit was scuppered in British Parliament on Saturday October 19, it may never go through. Which means that all my efforts to obtain French citizenship will have been unnecessary.

Last week I had my interview at the Prefecture de Police. This is the final step before they send your dossier to the Ministry of the Interior (or the Prefet, who knows where they send it) for the final decision. In a small, airless booth at 9:30 in the morning, two women bombarded me with questions for 45 minutes, but I was totally prepared. Weeks before, I had studied up. You can find a sampling of some of the questions on the internet. I did my homework, searched for the answers, created a PowerPoint presentation for myself with “flash cards” and memorized the answers. It seemed that they asked me every single question I had prepared for:

  • name the five major rivers of France
  • name all the presidents of the Fifth Republic
  • what year did the French Revolution start, when did it end, who was the King, what happened to him, and what was the end result of the revolution?
  • what is the motto of France? (Liberté Egalité Fraternité). What does that mean, exactly?
  • What is laïcité (secularism) in France? When was the law? (1905), and what does laïcité mean exactly?
  • How many French departments are there and name five of them.
  • Name the five overseas’ departments. (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyanne, Reunion, Mayotte.)
  • Why do you want to become French?
  • Name the mountain ranges in France. (Alpes, Pyrénées, Vosges)
  • What are France’s border countries (Germany, Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco, Italy)
  • Who built the Chateau of Versailles (King Louis XIV, the Sun King).

etc, etc. There were a lot of questions.

At the end of the interview, I was told that everything was completed and the final step would be to send my dossier to the Ministry of the Interior. I felt triumphant as I ran out of the Prefecture in search of the nearest café to stand at the counter and knock back a triple espresso.

And then Monday of this week I received a Kafkaesque email from one of the women who had interviewed me. “It has come to our attention,” she wrote, “that there are some important elements missing from your dossier.”

Huh? They’re just realizing this NOW?

Translated from French: “Your situation – regularized on French soil since 2012 – requires the production of a Canadian criminal record because of less than 10 years of regular, recognized presence on French soil.”

I didn’t know what that meant. I had to read it several times. It was unintelligible to me in French. I translated the message into my language. It was unintelligible to me in English.

I’ve been living, working and paying taxes in this country for three decades. But they’re claiming that I arrived in 2012. At first I thought it was a mistake, that they had confused me with another person who has the same name as me. But no, I contacted the woman for clarification and this is the story they’re sticking to. I have tax records, pay slips, phone records, bank records, my career summary issued from the French Social Security office showing the years I worked, the names of my employers and the points I have collected for my retirement fund. I even have two old Cartes de Séjour (official residence card) – issued from that same Prefecture! – confirming my existence and presence on French soil. But they’re claiming that I arrived in 2012. It’s like two decades of my life in France have been erased. And what about my income tax contributions (a lot!) No gratitude whatsoever? I feel indignant.

When I continued to protest via e-mail, I received a terse, final response. Here’s the dismissive, utterly illogical and condescending manner in which French government employees talk to you (translated into English):

Even if indeed your entry in France dates from an earlier time, and even if you possess a European community residence permit, your regularized entry was only recognized in 2012 by the French State. The official date, therefore, is 2012. Because your presence on French soil is less than 10 years, the criminal record of the country where you resided six months earlier (Canada) is therefore required. I urge you to send us this Canadian record as soon as possible. If not, your file will be closed as a non-case and without follow-up.

 

But I didn’t reside in Canada six months earlier! I haven’t resided in Canada since the early 1990s! And I have no idea where the date 2012 comes from, plucked from the air? (Yes, I do know. Someone made a mistake and they don’t want to admit it.) When I asked, I was told it was the date their computer spat out. That date is completely arbitrary.

Do they realize that to obtain a Canadian criminal record you have to have your fingerprints taken? And that no police station in France does that? Other than getting myself arrested, I cannot find a way to get my prints done. I had a long telephone conversation with a helpful person at the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) in Canada who told me that my best bet would be to go to Belgium to get it done. And then I have to mail my ten fingerprints in black ink on white paper to an agency in Canada who, after checking, will snail mail the results back to me. I also have to provide the Prefecture with more documents: my latest tax returns again, my payslips, my phone slips, employer certificate. I did all that in August, and yet, two months later they want them all over again.

I actually feel like throwing in the towel and abandoning my request for French citizenship. I’m reminded of this true story: my boyfriend at the time was friends with an Algerian couple who owned a successful bar-restaurant in Paris’s 19th arrondissement. Their three grown kids moved to Montreal, got good jobs, eventually bought houses and settled down. For decades the Algerian couple had been applying – unsuccessfully – for French citizenship. For decades the Prefecture de Police had had them jumping through hoops while demanding tons of documents, each time rejecting their dossier. Meanwhile, their kids in Montreal got married and were having kids of their own. The parents went over every summer and loved it there. Their kids said to them – come and live here, it’s a great country. You’ll be close to us and your grandchildren.

The parents, close to retirement, said OK. They put their business up for sale and began planning their new life in Canada. And then one day out of the blue they received a letter from the Prefecture de Police announcing that they’re being fast-tracked for French citizenship. “Not interested,” they wrote back. “You can keep your French citizenship. We’re moving to Canada.” Today they’re happy Canadian citizens. Why are they happy? Because no one treats them with contempt.

 

 

 

Leonardo at the Louvre, a major retrospective

This is a favorite of mine. She’s in the Louvre. Painted between 1490 and 1496, La belle ferronnière is also known as Portrait of an Unknown Woman.

From October 24, 2019 to February 24, 2020

To commemorate the 500-year anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci in France*, the Louvre Art Museum is planning a major retrospective of the painter’s career. The exhibition will illustrate how Leonardo’s investigation of the world, which he referred to as “the science of painting”, was the instrument of art through which he sought to bring life to his paintings.

*He died in Amboise (in the Loire valley of France) in 1519, and is buried there.

Alongside its own collection of da Vinci paintings, the Louvre will display nearly 120 works (paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculptures, objets d’art) from some of the most prestigious European and American institutions: the Royal Collection, the British Museum, the National Gallery in London, the Vatican Pinacoteca, the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, the Galleria Nazionale in Parma, the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Institut de France.

High visitor numbers are expected! A specific time slot must be booked, well in advance and in order to ensure optimal visiting conditions. This applies to all visitors, including those entitled to free admission. Bookings opened in June through the Louvre and in partner stores like the FNAC. Here’s the link to the Louvre below. Tip: I attend these big exhibitions at night when there’s a lot less people. The Louvre is open Wednesdays and Fridays until 9:45 pm. Afterwards, go for dinner at the oh-so-chic Café Marly in the Louvre courtyard.

https://www.louvre.fr/en/homepage

Why not visit the Château of Clos Lucé in the Loire Valley where da Vinci spent the last three years of his life? Here’s the link below of his last residence, the museum and the gardens –

http://www.vinci-closluce.com/en

Friday night. chilling at home. flourless ganache chocolate cake.

Got home from work at 7 and cracked open a bottle of Bourgueil (from the Loire Valley, my fave wine region). As I recline on my chaise lounge, I’m looking at recipes for flourless chocolate cake.

flourless cake

ganache

Ganache frosting. I could eat this straight from the bowl.

Below is a recipe for cashew milk that I make weekends for my morning coffee. On Friday night I soak almonds and cashews all night then whizz them on Saturday morning. You can add a single date, if you want, to stave off any bitterness. Or honey, but not much. I add a smidgen of date syrup that I bought in London. Then I make myself a huge mug of strong coffee and add the heated nut milk and two tiny teaspoons of demerara sugar. You can also add some coconut milk if you want (warmed), or just regular cow’s milk.

(banish white sugar from your kitchen; use raw or unrefined sugars like muscovado, demerara, and turbinado.)

Simple Homemade Creamy Cashew Milk

Cake recipe:

Killer Chocolate Cake

https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/flourless-chocolate-cake-recipe

Have a yummy weekend.

 

 

the beauty of bilingualism

A week ago, an article entitled The Beauty of Being Bilingual appeared in The New York Times. It was written by Peruvian-American writer, Natalia Sylvester. As a bilingual person myself, the topic interested me. I read the article carefully, then read it again, not entirely sure what message the author was attempting to convey. (the article is below)

I’m most thankful that I can speak Spanish because it has allowed me to help others,” Ms. Sylvester writes. AndI used to think that being bilingual is what made me a writer, but more and more I see it’s deeper than that. It’s the constant act of interpreting.”

I became bilingual for economic survival. I moved to France not knowing a soul, and my priorities were clear: find an apartment, find a job, perfect my French. How else would I integrate, communicate, participate, get myself hired and fit in?

There’s a danger of speaking only one language, a foreign one, in a host country: it ghettoizes you. I didn’t want to be an outsider looking in. To move to France – or any foreign country for that matter – and not learn the lingua franca seems inconceivable. Being bilingual allows you to view the world through a wider lens. One day I will retire, and – who knows? – I might move to Italy or Spain or Portugal. At which point I will learn Italian, Spanish or Portuguese.

The benefit of bilingualism is to not only open doors, but the mind. I’ve been told that it improves memory, helps you process information better, and ameliorates multi-tasking skills. It’s definitely a strength, and synonymous with enrichment: new words, new knowledge, new shapes and sounds coming out of your mouth and vocal organs. What a pleasure to read Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal in French. Or Le Monde, ELLE magazine, Courrier International, or any other French-language publication. What a pleasure to listen to the radio and television, follow current events, debates and discussions – and have opinions! – on all manner of things. Sometimes I’ll read an article in a French newspaper, then read an article in an English-language paper on exactly the same topic, and the viewpoints will be completely different. Interesting! This shows the connection between language, culture, mentality and POV (point of view.)

In less than a month, I have my interview at the Préfecture de Police to obtain French citizenship. How would that interview be conducted if I didn’t speak French? I can’t imagine a candidate showing up with an interpreter. I’m expected to provide answers (in fluent French) to a host of questions ranging from politics, literature, geography, history, laïcité (secularism) to regional cuisine. I’ve already memorized the names of France’s five main rivers (the Loire, the Seine, the Rhône, the Garonne and the Rhine), the meaning of Liberté Egalité Fraternité, the words to the national anthem, and a hundred other things. Should my interviewer ask if there’s one thing that I particularly like about France, I’ll reply, “La langue française!” (the French language.)