Why this blog?

To understand why this blog was created and where it got its name, start here

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Apartment in Amboise

Here is our studio in Amboise - to the right of the big house - at the base of cliff beneath the chateau


And here is the view from our front yard

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Amboise castle

Our apartment is at the foot of this castle. Here's what it looked like walking home after dinner.

The gargoyle in the center looks a little fuzzy because he is wearing a bird's nest.

Amboise

I'm on my way to spend a week in the Loire Valley with my friend Cindy who has just arrived from Ithaca, NY.

We just had lunch at the Cabane a Huitres - yummm

We are now headed for the train station - on our way to Amboise where we'll be spending the week.

Stay tuned for photos and stories of French castles . . .

Friday, February 25, 2011

Venus in Pisces

"Half hour astro love check-in just $49." The email from astrologer Cindy Morris popped up in my inbox just before Valentine's Day. Why not check it out? I was planning to spend yet another Valentine's Day alone, might as well consult with my astrologer to see if she had any insights.

My first real exposure to astrology came in 2008. I was a skeptic - until I watched Carol have her chart read, followed by readings of her four skeptical grown children. The insights were uncanny. Then, supplying the exact time, date, and place of my birth, I had my own birth chart drawn and interpreted by two different astrologers. I was stunned by the specific details and resonance that I felt. The language of astrology with its planets and houses and ascendants still sounds like gobbledygook, but it has been around for centuries. There may be something to it . . .

I've never met Cindy in person. She always gives readings remotely, via the telephone, even if you live right next door in Boulder. So it doesn't matter that I am in Paris, I just call her up via Skype.

She started out by asking a few questions: "Are you currently in a relationship? How is the writing going?" Well . . I'm enjoying the writing, but the relationships don't seem to be going anywhere right now.

"Ah, we'll be talking about both writing and relationships," Cindy replied as she plunged into my reading.

"First of all, you have Uranus, the freedom planet, in the 7th (marriage) house - you'll probably never get married again. But you don't care, right?"

Well, gee, I guess not. After all, my whole trip to Paris is about being free and finding myself. Who knows what will happen next?

Cindy continued: "Love is all about the position of Venus and the Moon in your chart. Venus is what we love and what we are attracted to, and the Moon is our emotional nature and how we process that attraction. In your chart, Venus and the Moon are opposed rather than complementary. . . You have Venus in Pisces. This means that you are a romantic - probably more interested in the fantasy of a relationship than the everyday reality. Furthermore, your Venus in Pisces is in the third house - the house of writing and communication." (Suddenly, the connection with Dominique - which has been 95% via email and 5% in person - makes sense.)

"However, you have another strong influence that's been holding you back. Your Moon is in Virgo - and that puts on the brakes. It brings out your prudish, cautious, judgemental side. Your Venus may be attracted to someone much younger - but your Moon disapproves. (I think of Andrea . .) Ignore it! It's time for you to change. And why not? You are free. You're living in Paris for God's sake! Remember, you don't have to treat each man you meet as a potential husband. And that list of yours? Too long. Forget it!"

And so, as the reading ended, I was relieved and excited. According to the stars, I should spend less time in the library and more time out in the world. Don't think about finding a mate, just live each day as it comes, meet new people, and write. Probably good advice for anyone.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cooking class

As I continue my exploration of Paris, I decided to try something different today. In addition to photography and writing classes, WICE offers drawing, painting, wine tasting and cooking classes. Why not? I always learn a thing or two and meet new people.

What fun! Today's class on was on cooking fresh fish and their sauces. I came away with some useful tips.

Dessert was creme caramel. When caramelizing the sugar - don't stir it!


The proper way to tie a bouquet garni - be sure to bend the parsley stalks - that's where the flavor lives


Always trim the fins from the tail toward the head


In the springtime your fish might come with roe. You can use the roe to create an appetizer: slit the membrane, scrape out the eggs with the back of the knife, mix them raw with lime juice, olive oil, parsley, salt, and pepper and let it stand for at least 10 minutes for the flavors to blend. Yumm.


The class, taught in English by a French instructor, is targeted to retired francophiles, or wives following husbands who are sent here on business.

Once upon a time I might have envied the wives with their tony expat apartments, exotic vacations, and generous benefits - so I was surprised to hear them talk about the lack of control over their lives. Their husbands are high-level pawns who may be moved at any time. And even though a Paris assignment is more attractive than, say, Dakar, many of these educated women are now reduced to appendages. Their visas do not allow them to work; they can only smile and follow two steps behind their husbands.

My apartment may be small and my budget is tight, but I am free.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Petra - Part 2

It started as an assignment for my photography class: "The Art of Photographing People." We worked with the technical aspects of angle, contrast, and composition; critiquing student examples in class, experimenting with cropping and color models.

"But photographing people is not about the technical aspects - you must try to find the essence of the person. And you should ask permission before taking the picture." Our instructor, Meredith Mullins, was adamant about this. "The other challenge is to capture the person or activity without the "say cheese" type of photo."

Petra proved to be a willing subject. He was delighted whenever he saw me approach with my camera. Furthermore, he somehow managed to convey through pantomime and fingers tracing tears down his cheeks, that he would send the photographs that I had taken to his mother still in Romania.


I try not to think about Petra's family - do the children go to school? Or do they also beg on street corners, or worse - pick pockets? I don't want to know, but I can't deny his humanity. He's not faking the blessings and gratitude that he bestows on me after I ask to see his book of Bible stories.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Surprises - part 3

Two weeks ago I stumbled upon Elvis in Paris. Last week I discovered a Mississippi river paddle boat sitting on the Seine. The Tennessee has a sister ship aptly named the Mississippi. Go figure.


They are both docked just down river from the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower.

The food looks pretty good, but I don't think they offer gambling.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Saturday afternoon

Perhaps it was the second glass of red wine? A robust Cahors from southwest France. Or the garlicky mashed potatoes? Maybe it was the concert? Or all three? I finished the afternoon feeling warm, relaxed, and with a big smile on my face.

Paris is empty. It's the winter vacation - 2 weeks in February when school is closed and everything stops. My classes and choir practice have been suspended and all of my friends are out of town. I decided to brave the cold, rainy Saturday afternoon to go to a show recommended by Melissa and Paolo. The show is called VocaPeople. I was hoping to go there with Marc, a good-looking guy who sings bass in the choir, but I'm not sure if he is really interested (in me or in the concert). So why wait? I went to the last-minute ticket kiosk and scored a great seat at half price. Plus, I had time for lunch before the show.

The Plomb du Cantal is a brasserie just down the street from the theatre. I've noticed that it is always packed but have never eaten there. Why not try it?

Cantal is a sparsely populated region in southcentral France. It's known for its cows, cheeses, and sausages. The restaurant is a meat and potatoes kind of place, a specialty is the "aligot" - mashed potatoes mixed with local cheese and lots of garlic. Forget this place if you're looking for nouvelle cuisine or tiny portions. It's crowded and noisy and just what I needed to warm me up on a cold day.


And the concert? Great fun. See for yourself.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Nostalgia

Back in the days before Walmart and Monoprix - before our throw-away culture - we kept household items for a lifetime, maintaining them with the help of specialized tradesmen. And before the days of shopping centers, cars, and websites, the tradesmen came to us; announcing their passage with a distinctive call.

One morning on my way to class in the center of Paris, I was attracted by the sound of a bell. I made a slight detour to investigate and discovered this guy trolling for business, looking for scissors and knives to sharpen.


To be fair, I've seen a similar knife sharpener at the Boulder farmers market. But does he still wander the streets, ringing a distinctive reminder of his passage?
Listen for yourself.
video

p.s. I love the sounds of Paris, and I'll be including more sounds to give you a sense of the city.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My new TV

French TV goes all digital soon, and my tiny hand-me-down TV is analog only. Every day a message scrolls across the screen warning me that it will no longer work after March 6th. So I've been doing some research and shopping, but hate to invest a lot of money since I don't watch TV very often. What to do?

A few days ago, Dominique came up with a brilliant solution. He has a friend who has just upgraded and has a perfectly acceptable digital flat screen TV to sell for a fraction of the price of a new one. Yes! I'll take it!

Furthermore, Dominique was willing to deliver it to my apartment and set it up for me. Double Yes!! You can see the difference below.


Best of all, we had a nice visit. I haven't seen him for several weeks, and I thought maybe it was over . . . . but maybe it isn't over . . .?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Friday evening

You may have noticed that my dating posts have been few and far between these days. Unfortunately. Dominique is still in the picture - sorta. We write almost every day, although I haven't seen him for weeks. And it will be several more weeks until I see him again - if, indeed, I do see him again . . .

So I was quite excited when a writing buddy, Carol B., suggested getting together for a movie on Friday evening. We both would much rather meet someone (a man) who is new, exciting, and sexy. But at least we weren't staying home alone on a Friday night.

We went to see "The King's Speech." Have you seen it? I think it is probably the best film I've seen all year - with the possible exception of "Des hommes et des dieux" (Of Gods and Men). You must see these movies!

Following the movie we went to a small nearby restaurant for dinner. On the way, I just had to stop and admire the newly refinished church of Saint Sulpice.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gifts

Before I moved to Paris I was a practicing "doula." A doula is a woman who provides emotional support during childbirth. I was privileged to attend many, many births in a career that spanned over 30 years. I remember very well each and every birth I ever attended. It's a moment that one never forgets.

I stay in touch regularly with many of "my" moms and babies. Jennifer is one of those whom I'm very close to. I was Jennifer's doula for the birth of her second daughter, Adeline. Here is one of the very first pictures of baby Adeline.


Recently, Jennifer discovered a new passion (besides being a mom plus working full time as an engineer.) She is making cute little gnomes and she made one just for me. It arrived last week along with a little story - also written just for me. Here's Fleur sitting on my computer and keeping me company.


This isn't just a commercial plug for Jennifer and her cute little gnomes, it's also a thank you. She is the person who taught me most everything I know about blogs. She has maintained her own blog since 2006. You can find her blog here. She also helped me set up my blog - the background colors, images, font, and layout. Thank you, Niffer!

Oh, and if you'd like to buy a personalized gnome for yourself, friend or loved one - you can find them here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Surprises - Part 2

This morning I was on the bus heading home after a morning of taking pictures when I suddenly saw Superman and Spiderman. Huh? What are they doing here in Paris?




Oh yeah, Batman was there too, along with his boat . .


p.s. The building is called the Artcurial. It's an auction house located on the Champs Elysees. You can bid on Superman and his buddies here

Surprises - part 1

Yesterday I was looking for a restaurant that had been recommended by a friend and found myself in a neighborhood that I don't usually visit. The sign said: "Elvis My Happiness"
Huh? Am I in Memphis or Paris?


It turns out that this is boutique is also the HQ for the French Elvis fan club - second largest in the world. You can find anything and everything Elvis related here, including organized tours to Graceland and Las Vegas. The clerk even had the haircut - but I didn't ask him to sing . . .

Monday, February 7, 2011

Meeting Margaret

She goes by Margaret now, having long ago discarded Bobbi, the nickname remembered by her college housemates. We've agreed to meet on Sunday afternoon, following Friday's detective work. Margaret lives less than half a mile from me - a fact that astonishes both of us as we compare neighborhood markets, landmarks, and bus routes. She's invited me for coffee and I arrive with a box of dark chocolates along with photos and details sent by Sonia and "Barney", one of the other Dickinson college housemates. I have no idea what to expect from our visit.

Margaret is petite, elegant, her youthful face belying her age. She looks younger than I do! I've come to "interview" her - but she seems more interested in me and what's brought me to Paris. Within moments, she's heard much of the story of my life, my two one way tickets to Paris, my blog, etc. But wait - I came to learn about YOU, I say.

She's not a starry eyed romantic about Paris as are many American women who dream of coming to live here. "I came here against my will" she says, and then goes on to recount the story of how she met her husband, their brief marriage, their three sons. It wasn't always easy . . . She also raised a daughter alone, and now, although she has 12 grandchildren, she is not really the grandmotherly type.


She is a talented sculptor though, and I am in awe of the many terra cotta sculptures that adorn her living room.


Margaret doesn't travel much these days, she's somewhat tied down by Tennessee, her diabetic cat who requires two insulin shots each day.


Our discussion moves to the computer - to my blog, and to Skype. I help download the application, and although I'm not very familiar with her Mac, we work to set up the connection via Skype with her son in Hong Kong, her daughter in Virginia, and Sonia in Colorado.

About this time, the telephone rings - it's her daughter calling from Virginia. "Is everything OK? You sound a little sad." I instantly recognize the tone of voice, the concern that every mother can sense. I take my leave, promising to follow up with photos, and with additional contact information. We'll stay in touch - we're practically neighbors! And now that they're connected, I'll leave it to Sonia to continue the college reminiscences.
Mission accomplished.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Soldes - part 2

If you know me very well, or if you've been following this blog closely - you'll know that I'm not big on fashion or shopping.

But I do need a new pair of shoes, and I finally poked my nose into a shoe store, three weeks after the official start of the winter sales. Even though I've been living in Paris for almost a year, it's hard for me to shake off old (Boulder) habits. And I really do go for comfort more than style . . .

But I figured that some of you (you know who you are ;-) would be proud of me for getting with the (Paris) program.

So here's a picture of my new shoes: Boulder on the left, Paris on the right. (duh)


And when the weather gets warmer and everyone starts wearing sandals, I'll be prepared. Guess which pair came from Boulder and which pair I bought in Paris . . .?


p.s. Of course, they're not exactly Gucci or Prada or Jimmy Choo - but hey, one step at a time . . . !

Friday, February 4, 2011

Detective work

I'd just finished writing the previous post when I remembered that I hadn't followed up on a recent promise to Sonia regarding detective work. . . Sonia had asked me to try and find her college roommate (from the 1950's) who'd married a Frenchman and moved to Paris. But Sonia had lost touch with her years ago . . .

I hadn't gotten around to calling . . . it IS hard to pick up the phone and begin a conversation with a total stranger . . . But I didn't want to call myself a detective - or admit to Sonia that I haven't followed up. So, after a fair amount of procrastination -- I finally did it.

Can you imagine my surprise when a man picked up the phone - and as I stammered the explanation of exactly who I was and why I was calling -- he suddenly exclaimed "Oh Christ! That's my ex-wife!" Whew. I found the right number . . . Sonia had warned me that she wasn't sure if the lost roommate was even still alive, and as I mentioned this, her ex-husband said "Oh yes, she is very much alive - would you like her phone number?" My goodness. Not only is she still here in Paris, but she lives not far from me. . . .

So I called her, got her answering machine, and left a detailed message. The story isn't finished yet, but it made my day . . . so far. . . Maybe I've found a new line of work? ;-)

p.s. Margaret and I have connected. I'll be meeting her on Sunday afternoon for tea!

Mr. Pons

We were a little worried. We haven't seen Mr. Pons at the Cabane à Huîtres for a few weeks now, and even at 96 years of age he's one of the most consistent of the regular customers. I had lunch there yesterday, exchanging "bises" (kisses on both cheeks) with Francis, Segolene, and Jean-Marie. As we were catching up on the latest news and gossip I commented that I hadn't seen Mr. Pons for a few weeks. Francis and Segolene agreed - where is he? The weather hasn't been too bad, and during my last conversation with Mr. Pons, he said he never leaves Paris except in the month of August when he travels to a family home in Brittany. (He eats oysters every day there, too.)

Is he ill? or worse? How would we know? Would his daughter-in-law come by and tell us? We know that he lives nearby - but no one seems to know his address. And Francis acknowledged that he doesn't know his phone number. I volunteered to play detective. I'll find him, I vowed. And, of course, through the magic of the internet, I found a likely candidate in the online phone book.

This morning I picked up the phone and dialed a number. What will I say if it's a stranger? I'd prepared my speech about looking for "the Mr. Pons who is 96 years old . . ." No need. After several rings, Mr. Pons answered. I recognized his voice right away. Whew. He's alive. He's very hard of hearing, and so I had to speak quite loudly to communicate. I think he was touched to hear that we - the Cabane à Huîtres - were worried about him, and he assured me that even though he'd been feeling a little tired lately, he wasn't ill, and he'd be coming in soon.

I called Francis to relay the news, and we all heaved a sigh of relief. It's nice to know that you're missed. Here's Mr. Pons with Francis:


And with Sophie:


p.s. After my phone call this morning, Mr. Pons went to the Cabane for lunch. I wasn't there, but Francis called me afterwards and said that Mr. Pons was touched by our concern and left "Happy as a king."