Saturday night funk. Covid vaccine. Kylie’s magic.

8 pm on curfew Saturday night in Paris. We’re still under semi-lockdown here. I had my first Covid vaccine yesterday. It went well, but my arm hurts where I was jabbed.

Glanced at the headlines on the online newspapers. Depressing as hell. Why do I even bother?

Blasts target school in west Kabul killing at least 40 people – Attack in Afghan capital injures mainly female students coming out of school.

 

And just when you want to stop the world and get off (although we should be rejoicing over the plummeting Covid numbers), I switched to YouTube to see what Kylie was up to in Tuscany with her fiancé. It’s clear why she has thousands of followers. When you’re feeling blue or overwhelmed by all the violence and terrible things happening in the world, she delivers just the opposite. She brings love, beauty and simplicity. Grazie, Kylie. I needed this tonight.

(308) RELAXING CINEMATIC COOKING: Pasta with Homegrown Artichokes in Tuscany, Italy – YouTube

the Parisian “It” handbag

This is the new bag in Paris. Don’t you love it? Numéro un, it’s called. Number one.

Handcrafted in Spain and sporting a huge range of colors.

Polène is a Parisian leather goods brand founded in 2016 by two brothers and a sister. The brand’s collections embody confident and classical true line combined with fluid and graceful curves. Inspired by the work of designers such as Madeleine Vionnet, Mariano Fortuny and Madam Grès, folds were incorporated into the collections, thus enhancing the leather’s malleability and strengthening the sculptural aspect of the designs. Passion for quality pushed the founders to use the best hand-made artisan production in Spain.

There is one boutique in Paris. Link to their beautiful website below.

Polène – Maison de maroquinerie parisienne | E-shop (polene-paris.com)

cocktail comeback

What happened to cocktails? It occurred to me recently that no one has offered me one for a long time, nor have I made one. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever made myself a cocktail, unless you count a Bloody Mary or a Harvey Wallbanger from a long time ago. Here, everyone loves a Kir royal: sparkling white wine or champagne with a glug of blackcurrant liquor. Delicious! But not the sort of Mad Men cocktail I’m thinking of.

My weekend drinking habit is always the same: if it’s not red wine (or chilled rosé in the summer), it’s Martini Bianco and tonic. Same old, same old. 

So I thought: what if I made myself a great cocktail this weekend? You know, the kind our parents used to drink. I googled around and came up with a Sidecar and a Daquiri. It’s settled then. I’ll make myself one or the other. I’ll have to buy all the ingredients first, including a cocktail glass and a shaker. And I’ll make that delicious olive-fig tapenade I made on New Year’s Eve, served on those Swedish crackers I’m addicted to.

During these dreary Covid lockdown-curfew times I guess you have to make your own party. Ideally, I’d love nothing more than to sit in a dark intimate bar with a drink and an interesting companion on the stool beside me. Quiet jazz in the background. Ice cubes tinkling in my glass. Chatting with the bartender and laughing.

Here’s Dushan the bartender in just such a bar. He’ll make you a Daiquiri. Thanks, Dushan. Cheers!

(287) How to make a Daiquiri Cocktail – Liquor.com – YouTube

mushroom lasagna. cold and sunny. London.

The weather has been glorious all week: cobalt-blue sky, abundant sunshine … and cold! Dropping down to as low as 1° centigrade at night. I love it. Walking to work is sheer joy: few people on the streets because most are working from home. Not me, though. I like going to the office and having the space to myself.

Last Friday I booked a 5-day holiday in London. I have no idea what the Covid or travel-restriction or vaccination situation will be in early June, but I went ahead and did it anyway. Haven’t been to London since August 2019. I miss it. All my fave, familiar and inexpensive hotels are either closed permanently due to Covid (The Penn Club), or closed for the summer of 2021, so it took me awhile to find a centrally-located, reasonably-priced hotel.

Last week I made a delicious mushroom lasagna with spinach, ricotta and sundried tomatoes. I think I’ll make it again. Who doesn’t like lasagna?

Earlier, I was gazing wistfully at my photos and travelogue of my last trip to London in August 2019. COVID hadn’t hit yet and we were blissfully unaware. Here are two blog posts from back then: Leafy London, heatwave and an evening stroll I took from Sloane Square to the Chelsea Bridge and the river Thames:

leafy London, heatwave | Juliet in Paris

Chelsea Bridge and the Battersea Power Station

an evening with Hilary Mantel

My editor in London had just mentioned that she was about to start Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, the final instalment in her trilogy.

And then I saw this special online event while reading The Guardian: an evening with Hilary Mantel. I’m going to sign up, it’s only a fiver! (five pounds). Click on the link below for details. See, also, the other events and masterclasses offered by The Guardian (e.g. 100 days of Biden’s presidency; book clubs, Brexit, women’s equality).

This event is being streamed globally.

An evening with Hilary Mantel | The Guardian Members

 

Etienne Daho

Probably one of the only male French singers that I really like, Daho is admired for his creative ingenuity, his dance moves and his velvet voice. In one word: suave. Born on January 14, 1956 in Oran, French Algeria, the French pop prince is also a songwriter and record producer. He lives in London.

“You have to mix things together, like in a cocktail shaker – not just music but films, books, paintings, pictures,” he says. “That’s how you build your world, you see something and you know that if you delve into it you’re going to learn something about yourself.”

Let’s go back to 1991. Here, we see Daho in New York City. Checker cabs. Times Square and the underground club scene. His big-shouldered jacket.

(262) Etienne Daho – Des attractions désastre (Clip officiel) – YouTube

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

This post was written in May 2018 when no one had ever heard the word COVID or Coronavirus. How carefree and untroubled we were back then! I’m so glad I have my blog archives to look back on and remember.

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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!” (this is appropriate because it’s a church). Not a church, actually, but a cathedral. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox cathedral located at number 12 rue Daru. Established in 1861, it was the first Russian Orthodox place of worship in France. To visit it, 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 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. 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 secular 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 swank restaurant-tea salon inside, but too expensive for my pocketbook.

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Directly across the road is 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.

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I know this district well because I worked in it for two years. It was one of the worst jobs I’ve 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 from French into English, but received no status or recognition as a translator. My sole consolation was the Parc Monceau located right beside the building. Small and romantic, it’s my most favorite Parisian 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 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 flowers.

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. (Update 2021: unfortunately, Cairns Donna no longer exists. Covid killed it.)

asparagus soup

I had a sudden craving for asparagus soup. So I walked to the shopping mall on my lunch hour today – a gorgeous, cold, blue-sky, sunny day – and bought all the ingredients. I’m going to make the soup right now while listening to a podcast. There’s something elegant about asparagus soup, I don’t know what exactly. Simple yet nourishing, it reminds me of old Gourmet magazines and dinner parties; springtime and Easter. The color green: nature, growth, renewal.

Craig Lee for The New York Times

the night I was sequestered in a police van in Paris

I wasn’t planning on posting this at all, but it suddenly seemed pertinent in view of the outrage regarding police misconduct towards women during last Saturday’s vigil on London’s Clapham Common. Below is a short excerpt from my memoir recounting a late-night incident during which my French girlfriend and I were literally picked up off our feet from the sidewalk and deposited in a police van one night in Paris. Every word of this is true. It occurred in the 1990s.

Prior to coming to France, I had never seen the inside of a police van. But in Paris and within the space of three months I found myself not once, but twice in a paddy wagon.

It was two a.m. when Véronique and I left the discothèque in the sixth arrondissement and decided to walk home. We could have taken a taxi, but the warm air, the river Seine glinting in the moonlight and the sheer beauty of the city conspired to keep us outdoors.

“Let’s walk home.” I said.

“Yes, let’s!” said Véronique.

We began to cross one of the bridges that links the right bank with the left. Deep in conversation, we didn’t notice the police van gliding stealthily alongside us.

Bonsoir, mesdemoiselles,” We glanced to our left. A cop, one of two in the cab of the van, was leaning nonchalantly out of the open window; too nonchalantly, I remember thinking. A cigarette hung from his lip and his head was bare.

Bonsoir.” we replied curtly, and continued walking.

“What are two pretty girls like yourselves doing out at this hour?” the cop said. His voice was smarmy.

“Just walking home.” Véro said.

“It’s unsafe at this late hour,” he persisted, “Wouldn’t you rather be driven home?”

“No, thank you.” we said, and continued walking.

And then suddenly all hell broke loose. With a loud metallic clang, the side door of the vehicle slid open and half a dozen policemen leapt out. As they sprinted towards us, Véronique and I stood frozen to the pavement, open-mouthed with shock. Within seconds we were encircled, and faster than you can say ‘police misconduct’, we were literally scooped up and lifted off our feet – me in the arms of one cop, Véro in the arms of another – and carried back to the van. We protested all the way, legs and arms flailing, screaming to be let free. Once in the van, our captors placed us on a wooden bench while the others climbed back in. Then the door slid shut with a final clang, and off we drove into the inky night.

It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dimness of the van’s interior. The smell of male sweat and those Gauloises cigarettes filled my nostrils. The odor was pungent, acrid, overpowering. Stiff with rage, I eyed the ring of faces around me. “Ça y est,” was my first thought. This is it. They’re going to gang-rape us, either right here in this van or in an isolated area.

Were they off-duty? On-duty? Where were they taking us? My mind raced as fast as my heart as I tried to decode and make sense of this surreal situation. A minute ago I had been walking across a bridge, free and happy as a lark. And safe. I didn’t feel safe now.

I was in a foreign country with foreign customs. Best sit quietly in my corner and observe. I’d use Véronique’s reaction as a gauge: if she wasn’t displaying signs of fear, then I assumed we were safe. But wait. Were they snickering? What was so damned funny? And then I heard something else: Véronique was snickering with them. What the hell was going on? What was this? Some pervy nocturnal ritual in which French cops routinely drive around the city plucking women off the streets only to sequester them in their vans? This so-called abduction, or whatever it was, was manifestly fueling Véronique’s lusty love of attention, lusty love of men and, I was certain, her lust-filled fantasies. It’s true that the men were young and lean and good-looking; even in the dark you could see the contours of their muscular bodies under their snug uniforms. But they were cops, French cops, and I’m no fan of authority figures. And how dare they take such liberties with us … with me! Who did they think they were??

As we sped through the streets I sat glowering in the corner, arms crossed defensively across my chest. I watched, we all watched, as Véro, now in a state of high excitement and wedged between three cops on the wooden bench, shrieked with laughter, showed off her legs to maximum effect and tried on someone’s cap. I groaned inwardly. The trollop! Why didn’t she just sit on their knees, one by one, and perform a lap-dance?

“Nous allons où exactement?” I said loudly, in an attempt to steer matters towards a clear and sensible course of action. Where are we going exactly? No one answered. And then a minute later one of the cops, cocking his head in my direction, said to Véronique in a surprisingly familiar tone, as if they were long lost friends, “Qu’est-ce qu’elle a votre amie?” What’s wrong with your friend? He seemed surprised that I wasn’t enjoying myself. Oh, I’m sorry, I felt like saying, was I expected to provide entertainment?

“Elle est canadienne,” Véro replied between squeals of laughter. (She’s Canadian.)

A silence ensued while the men reflected on this, and then one of them spoke. “Are all Canadians coincés?” Coincé means uptight.

“Je ne suis pas coincée!” I hollered from my corner, “Je suis scandalisée!” I’m not uptight, I’m scandalized! The rest I said in English – How dare you physically pick me up from the sidewalk and hold me hostage in this van! There’s no law against walking home at 2 a.m. This is a violation of my civil liberties, and when I get out of here there’ll be hell to pay!

No one understood a word I said. Six heads turned to Véro for translation, but she couldn’t be bothered. “Elle est vexée,” is all she said. “Vexed??” I continued to rail. “I’m so angry I could spit!”

There was no question as to who to drop off first. The van pulled up to number 6 rue Cadet (Véro had given them my address) and here’s what one of the cops said to me, within earshot of everyone else: “You can get out, but only on condition that you kiss each of us before leaving.”

The sound of my shocked intake of breath was audible. I stared at him, my outraged eyes blazing in the dark. I was beyond livid. I stood up and commanded them to open the door: OUVREZ CETTE PORTE IMMEDIATEMENT! OPEN THIS DOOR IMMEDIATELY!

Or what?, squeaked a small voice in my head. You’ll call the police?

For a fraction of a second there was silence, and then someone opened the door. The clanging seemed to go on forever as I stepped over legs and extricated myself from that lawless lair. Jumping down to safety onto the sidewalk, I turned and looked back at them, an array of raw emotions etched on my face: insolence, defiance, rebelliousness. From the van’s interior seven pairs of eyes were fixed on me as I hissed my final riposte: I’d rather die than kiss any of you!

They cackled like crows. What? What? What did she say? I heard Véronique translating, loud and clear: Elle préférerait mourir plutôt que de vous embrasser.

Loyal to my friend despite her sluttishness, I spoke to her as I would a wayward child. “Véronique, are you coming?” My voice was stern.

“No,” she tittered. She was still sitting on the bench, cops on either side of her. “I think I’m in good hands. They’ll drive me home.”

I snorted. Good hands indeed. Ha! I thought of the bargained kiss and how, alone in that van with six testosterone-fueled men, she was going to negotiate the transaction. I didn’t want to know. Exasperated, I turned on my heel and walked towards my building. As I did so, a chorus of farewells chimed behind me. “Bonne nuit, mademoiselle! Dormez bien!” Good night, sleep well! Of course, I neither turned nor replied. I reached the big front door, yanked it open and, stepping over the sill, disappeared into the dark.

That weekend I recounted the incident to my mother over the telephone. She listened in shocked silence right to the end. And then she said, “Don’t ever tell that story to your father.”

New Chapter

In which a physical assault breaks out on the metro and its back to the paddy wagon

Copyrighted Material

we don’t want your candles

Despite the Covid ban, women across the country went ahead with their vigil for Sarah Everard.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said – Tonight Carrie and I will be lighting a candle for Sarah Everard and thinking of her family and friends.

Home secretary Priti Patel tweeted I’ll be lighting a candle tonight in Sarah’s memory.

Lighting a candle? How’s that going to help?

You can keep your blinking candles. We want real action. This is not a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue. Stop blaming women! (what was she wearing? why was she outside at 9 pm? She asked for it.) and shift the blame to where it belongs: on men. Good men need to speak out more in defence of women rather than keeping silent. Young boys and teenage boys need to be educated on the subject of harassment and violence towards women in schools. Where are the mentors? All proof that this is still a deeply patriarchal society in which men refuse to confront and acknowledge this issue. (I’m talking ALL societies, not just British society.)

Women are sick and tired of having candles lit for them. Today, in France, “une marche blanche” (a white march) is being organized to pay tribute to 14-year old Alisha, pushed into the river Seine by two classmates and drowned. As for the 41-year old woman found dead in the Seine after disappearing from jogging? Nothing. No one’s talking about it. Just another statistic. In France, murders are referred to as “faits divers” which means “trivia” or “various bits of information”.

“Men are rarely challenged to think about their dominance, power and privilege. Lacking introspection and the ability to be examined, they are rendered invisible in the discourse about issues that are primarily about them. Men have been erased from much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.” Jackson Katz – Educator, filmmaker, and author who has created a gender violence prevention and education program entitled ‘Mentors in Violence Prevention’.

Reclaim These Streets vigils to highlight women’s safety held across UK – latest updates | World news | The Guardian