Monday, November 8, 2010

Random is as Random Does

Wow. Talk about biting it out on the Blogosphere... Let's see, since I last posted months ago, summer came and went (including a month long stay in the USA), and the cold and dreary temps have settled into Paris with a vengeance. What else? We all turned a year older (and it shows), Camillette is in her second year of pre-school, Roman is in a jardin de decouvertes aka a "discovery garden" two days a week, Halloween was very, very scary (and cute, see above), two work-work projects landed in my lap, I re-rented out our apartment in NYC after weeks of frantically and virtually trying to make that happen, the USA voted to put back in office the same people they voted out 2 years ago, and Franck and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary (a quick google search just told me that the "6th" is celebrated with Iron or... Candy. Umm. ok, "Happy anniversary dear, here's a fire poker. And a KitKat.")

I've also been spending a lot of time considering how best to rejuvenate the brand of a non-profit I am a part of, and realized, shamefully, that its not even the shoemakers kids who've gone shoeless this time, but the shoemaker herself.
Blogging, I find, is time consuming, at least if I want to (do it) write. So, until more time avails itself to me, here are few pics to carry me, or you, through to my next post.

RC with cousin Nate sweating it out on the Whipple Iron Truss Bridge across the original Erie Canal, July 2010

Crick-crossing at Saratoga State Park with cousins Nate and "Rouge", July 2010

C gets an overpriced kid's cut in W. Village, August 2010

C with Lauren, gives us a wave in between bites, NYC August 2010

Ice cream in the E. Village with Marano boys, August 2010
It's a wet world, after all: getting rained out at Disney Paris, September 2010

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Crazy Heat, Tasty Cupcakes.

Summer has finally arrived in Paris and it's hot as hellfire but I'm not complaining, lest I need to eat a whole lotta' crow. I'm routinely griping about how Paris weather blows (literally), and that I want summer to feel like summer and that I shouldn't feel the need to take a cardigan wherever I go. The thing is, Paris is ill equipped for it to be THAT hot, many places (including very public ones) don't have air conditioning or even fans. The heat has brought out some pretty random behavior. A local friend Jennifer just posted a funny foto on Facebook taken outside a post office that read, effectively, "the Post is closed today due to extreme heat and no air-conditioning (but we hope you understand)." Meanwhile, a second note from a passerby was taped up along side it asking if this was going to be a summer-long thing and reminding them about a little thing called fans.

Ah, passive-aggressiveness abounds and the heat has brought about untold levels of rude encounters. I call it a malaise: I saw a man get out of his car, and take the woman driving in her SmartCar behind him to task (while his car remained parked in the middle of the street with a buddy in the passenger seat). She had a baby in a car seat sitting next to her, and no amount of manic horn honking from others could deter him from chewing her out. I looked for signs of damage to the car(s), but I think the damage was only to the dude's ego. He wears black on the outside because black is how he feels on the inside, I suppose. In another instance of the heat driving people a little whack-o: while getting Roman out of his car seat, a woman rams the front end of my car while parallel parking and when I questioned her about it she gave me the Paris Shrug, and said, "excusez-moi, Madame. C'etait la voiture!" (excuse me, mam, it was the car!). huh?

Meanwhile, all of France is on sale for the next month. Can't say as I understand it fully, but essentially there are nationwide rules (ahem, laws) governing the sales or "les soldes", and merchants can only have sales during approved times of year, typically in January and again in July. I hear that given the economic crunchy-crunch the government has loosened up a bit on enforcing them. It feels absurd to buy anything any other time of year. I try to project sizes for the next year for my little ones. I bought 5 dresses for me, including 2 from Bonpoint, which I hadn't known makes clothes for adults.

I wore one of those dresses to Cupcake Camp. Dearest Hubbie and I made 60 mini Rose and Poppyseed Cupcakes, and participated in a fantastic charity event for Rebuilding Haiti Now. Friend Cat of Little Miss Cupcake was a co-organizer and was completely consumed with activity when we arrived that we could only manage a quick bisous and a "where can I put these cupcakes?" Congratulations Cat! They raised over 1200 euros, with over 1600 cupcakes. It was a huge and delicious success- way to put sugar and spice together to help those in need. To boot, it was held on July 4th my favorite holiday, and at Bistrot Vivienne, located in my favorite passage couvert. Camille was dressed in a romper from Gwen, and we took photos of each other, although I think Camille needs to work on her focus:
Camille romping it up in a romper.

I feel a little out of focus.

Franck and Roman working it.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon.

Remember the museum scene in Ferris Beuller's Day Off when Ferris' BFF Cameron locks eyes with and is transfixed by a little girl in a painting at The Art Institute of Chicago? According to our good friends at Wikipedia, "...the scene portrays Cameron observing the little girl up close whereupon he realizes that, though from a distance all seems in order, there is no shape or form to her face."

That painting, of course, is Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand Jatte). It's one of painter Georges Seurat's most famous works, and likely the quintessential example of Pointillism, a technique he developed and for which he was ridiculed. During a trip to Chicago for my friend Gail's wedding last October, I took a quick detour to pay homage to Sunday Afternoon; it was like visiting an old friend:


It also happens that the painting's setting is in my 'hood, and I just came from a quick jog (all my jogs these days are quick) on the island. I got those familiar tender goosebumps I get when I know I'm treading on historic territory. In fact "la Jatte" wasn't Seurat's haunt alone: Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley (likely others) also get props for putting in some painterly time here. It's a beautiful spot, and easy to imagine how impressionists would've liked it for the play of light bouncing atop the Seine's waters.

Ile de la Jatte, Alfred Sisley, 1873, photo courtesy of Artchive Web Gallery

Today, of course, it's still a retreat for many, and there are restaurants, townhouses, tennis courts, office buildings, and a bus line that cuts across it.
I also enjoy it for the colorful man-made ruches, or beehives, sponsored by the town of Levallois, as well as for a crisp glass of white. Some of Roman's early steps were also captured on the island. Awww.

Me and My RC in front of les ruches

photo of me by Camille

video

baby steps by Roman, June 2009


above: Georges Seurat: Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte, 1886, Art Institute of Chicago
source: http://cgfa.sunsite.dk

Friday, April 23, 2010

In France, it's easy being cheesy.

Everyone knows that France is famous for its cheese. It stands right behind Wisconsin for making the best cheese the world over ;). A guy named Rick I used to know once (only half-jokingly) put on his resume: I like cheese. Well, I do too, Rick, and the cheese I like I like a lot, mostly the hard salty types, like Cantal, Comté, and Gruyere. Yet, by Frenchie standards, I like a relative few, which is deceiving considering that in France there are upwards of 500 of them (the figures vary.) Back in 1962, at a low point in his political career, Charles de Gaulle famously quipped, "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheeses?"

Indeed, the best part about living here is the food culture and part of the fun is getting pretty tuned into different regions based upon their
gastronomique offerings, most notably the fromages. I appreciate how history and geography are truly manifest in a region's specialties: Normandie with its rolling hills and dairy cows gives you creamy Camembert, for example. Mmmmm... Camembert... But oh, I digress.

My in-laws are originally from Auvergne, a beautiful, if under-appreciated region in the center of France. It can be a little hard to get to, and has a hard time competing with the Atlantic or the Mediterranean as a go-to holiday destination. At its core is the industrial town Clermont Ferrand (not unlike my own hometown: big ups for Schenectady, NY!) Still, it is green and mountainous, and comprised of extinct volcanoes that produce some of the world's most minerally-of-mineral water (think: Volvic brand water- you know that little Volcano on the Volvic bottle? It's called the Puy de Dome, and my hubbie's grandparents live there.)

Maybe it's the minerals that have something to do with it, for when it comes to cheese, there are several celebrated types from the region, including Cantal and Salers. But for the locals, its all about the St. Nectaire, an uncooked, pressed cheese, made from cow's milk. It's dense and silky smooth. Delicate and aromatic. I'm no food critic, but in a word, it's scrum-delicious, with hints of hazelnut and mushrooms. As it happens, hubbie's colleague is from the very same small town in Auvergne that my MIL is from, and so he picked us up a little local love on a recent trip home. Colleague must have been trying to score some serious points, as he returned with some of the best St. Nectaire I've ever had- and so much of it that I thought for certain we couldn't work our way through it. But we made a couple meals out of it. And how:

s'wonderful.

Roman secures his grip.

Camille has a taste for only the finest

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Red Fish

Last week, around midnight, I lay in bed as I often do at that hour, listening to one of my favorite podcasts, RadioLab (ok, ok, yes, it's in English; and I should be listening to a French podcast, so guillotine me.) By way of introduction to their subject, a singer/musician named Juana Molina, the host mentioned that she had a gig coming up at Le Poisson Rouge in the East Village. Despite my near slumber, my eyes flicked open.

Of course!
Poisson Rouge.

But the Poisson Rouge I'm most acquainted with these days isn't a venue for hot bands. Instead, it's a free French/English bilingual website, filled with cheeky games for pre-school children, and replete with enough wink-winks to adults to keep 'em coming back for more. The imagery is charming, the content educational, the videos infective, and the music is catchy. They channel anime, have folksy or rocky riffs on popular English and French children's songs that can be downloaded as MP3s (I highly recommend their cover of Une Souris Verte). They leverage pop art from Mondrian to Warhol and in fact their content is not merely bilingual: an alphabet section contains vocabulary in French, Spanish, Greek, and both UK
and US English, and Poisson Rouge will give your kid a head-start in Chinese, too. There are no instructions, just click and discover, and its regularly updated to keep it fresh and relevant.

On April 1st, Camille said to me, "I want to do some
Poisson Rouge." (I like her choice of verb: "do some.") As she was in the middle of a nasty bout of chicken pox, I quickly indulged her, only to click on the site and find a black screen with red lettering, the same palette used by all those best selling true-crime paperbacks, saying effectively, "Sorry folks, parks closed," and "Our apologies, Poisson Rouge can no longer be maintained."

Camille getting a little stretch in before bedtime in her Poisson Rouge t-shirt

Remember Gene Wilder in Stir Crazy? "Whaaa, whaa, whaa?!" I was shocked! How do I explain "website maintenance" to a 3.5 year old, and how do I tell my pock-marked petite that Poisson Rouge is no more? I stammered. I stuttered. I contemplated a quick toggle over to SesameStreet.org, the whole while that their mea culpa was up on the screen.

About 30 seconds into it, I hear giggling. And it was coming from the computer! The black screen went away and Poisson Rouge was back as usual, indeed it had never gone away. A-ha! April Fool's! Some things really do translate.

I get the impression that the peeps behind Poisson Rouge are a bunch of creative, bilingual types who sincerely get a kick out of playing goofy jokes. But for many they caused a near panic, and even before I knew it was a joke (in those mere 30 seconds before the giggling started), I assuaged my guilt knowing I had already donated to the site. Yet still I asked myself, accusingly, "What more could I have done?"

Days later, they 'fessed up to their little joke, and sent a big merci by sharing many of the comments they received from Anglo and Franco friends alike. They promised that they were here to stay. Hope so.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

YSL.

I taught a speech class to undergrads when I was a graduate student. One of my students was an adorable 16-year old Swiss kid named Yves. How he managed to land himself in the middle of Midwestern cornfields for university study alludes me. Still, despite his precociousness, the other students looked out for Yves. I had a lot of group work in the class and I was touched when I saw a student, a sporty baseball player who let's face it, probably didn't get into the school based upon his academic merit, beckon Yves into his group, saying, "Yo, Eaves, come on. Join us."

I was reminded of how that baseball player pronounced his name whenever I contemplated choosing the name Yves for my boy. So I went with "Roman" instead, but still maintained a quiet soft spot for the name, owing to fashion designer and legend Yves Saint Laurent. Aka YSL.

Most recently, I had the good fortune of seeing the YSL Retrospective at the
Petit Palais. Friend Gwen came to celebrate her birthday, and my prezzie to her was a pair of tickets to the show. We gloated when we skipped ahead of the 150+ person line with our advanced-sale tickets. In sum, the show was an incredible tour de force, containing over 300 pieces, plus a great collection of jewelry, photography, and video. It was capped with a magnificent display of one his most celebrated creations: the black tuxedo for women, aka Le Smoking. The show included his first from 1966, as well as a three levels of successive rifts on the original. (I should think that HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton) owes a debt of gratitude to YSL for the woman's power pantsuit.) The blog If It's Hip, It's Here provides a great overview of the show. Here's Gwen in front of the show's banner:

I'm not saying I adore all of his work, some of his least appealing pieces (to me) are his most popular. But you've got to admire the person, the designer, the talent. He was a creative genius who lead the House of Dior when he was only 21, empowered women through his designs, and was the first designer to use black models. He had a loyal following and many celebrated relationships, most notably with another of my girl-crushes, Catherine Deneuve, who first show-cased his work in one of my favorite Frenchie films Belle de Jour. (I once went wrongly overdressed to a pimps and hos party in Brooklyn and when asked what kind of hooker I "was supposed to be," I jokingly and presumptuously answered, "Belle de Jour." He laughed.)

Not for nothing that I encouraged Franck to buy YSL "inspired" glasses when he was due for an upgrade:


Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008 leaving a mega-load of work (and art) behind. His ashes are spread in Marrakesh, a city I just visited for the first time, where he had a second home and would take to for
quinze jours for inspiration. I was laid up in my room at the rhiad with a stomach bug, but travel buddies Gwen and Leigh visited the Jardin de Yves Saint Laurent and his memorial for me and snapped these great photos below.




Photo of Yves Saint Laurent courtesy of Fondation Pierre Bergé

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Sophie Choice

My friend Ruchi sent me an email today asking about Sophie. Ruchi is several months pregnant, lives in India, and is prepping for the birth of her baby. She says that Sophie is the hot item on Amazon and elsewhere, and was asking me if it was "worth it." The answer is a resounding... oui!

Sophie is a giraffe, Sophie
la Girafe, a squeaky, rubbery teether for babies and tots produced by French toy manufacturer Vulli. Indeed, many people are now familiar with Sophie on both sides of the Atlantic, but she has been a staple of the French baby's diet for over 40 years. My sister-in-law Claire gave Sophie to Camille when she was born. I thought it was a sweet gift, but I didn't appreciate it fully until I got the voice-over from Claire explaining how essential Sophie is to any French newborn; de rigueur, you might say.

It's true! The more I looked
à gauche et à droit, the more I saw French infants gnawing on Sophie's leg, chomping on her neck as if auditioning for a cover of National Geographic, or nibbling her ears between drooly jaws. Babies can go to town on Sophie with no risk to their bloodstream because its "all natural rubber" (don't ask) and "handmade in the French Alps." Sophie was designed on May 25, 1961, the day celebrating Saint Sophie (hence the name, talk about auspicious beginnings!) By 2007, over 20 million copies of Sophie have been produced.

Ruchi was right, though. Sophie la Girafe
is a hot item. More than once I've seen it featured on hipster parenting blogs, and there is even a webpage devoted exclusively to it. The difference is that outside of France, it typically retails for over $20.00, presumably cashing in on the ooh-la-la French factor. Here you can find it as cheaply as 5,00€ (less than $7.00 at time of this post).

So, if like Ruchi, you're a friend of mine and you're expecting, you should also be expecting a Sophie la Girafe at your doorstep along with a nifty set of Petit Bateau pajamas (but that's another post).

"Rien comes between me and my Sophie"

Sophie la Girafe photo courtesy of www.netvibes.com


Thursday, March 4, 2010

It's ok if it rains on this parade.

This week I had a delightful visit with friends Virginie and Rajiv, who passed through town with their adorable newborn bébé, Rohan. Virginie, as her name implies, is French (and, um, I suppose it also implies she is a virgin, but I digress). She comes from the North and back in February 2007, she invited us to her hometown Dunkerque to celebrate carnival.

"Dunkirk" is probably most familiar to Anglos for the Battle of Dunkirk and the mass exodus of over 300,000 Allied troops in the successful
Dunkirk Evacuation in 1940 during World War II.

More locally, Dunkerque is also known for its carnival, a 6-week party (elapsed time) consisting of over-the-top parade processions and a series of big balls. The carnival, in one shape or another, goes back hundreds of years, and over time has come to celebrate a beloved big guy, or geant, named Reuze Papa. He is feted by thousands of costumed carnavaleux, revelers like us who carry colored umbrellas, cross-dress, OD on make-up, wear bad hats, boas, wigs, beads, and sing carnival songs. The upshot is the worse the costume the better, and the locals are all over it. Everyone is game.

A highlight of the parade is when parade leaders intentionally stop moving, only to have everyone behind them (and by that I mean thousands) effectively result in a giant pile up, and as David Lee Roth might say, you mine as well jump. And so you do, until the parade gets moving again. This is not for the faint of heart, nor for people who require a lot of body space (which as I've established, the French do not.) The atmosphere is entirely festive and agreeable. Rain or shine.

We loved having an insider's take on this hilarious festival. And Franck's lips sure looked purty in all that rouge à lèvres.

Franck primps with the best of 'em.

Rajiv and Virginie (try to) pose in front of the church where they were married, but not without a little interference.

Gearing up before the parade with a laugh and hike of the skirt.

...et voila les belles couleurs

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Watch your step.

As any casual observer will have noted: there is a ton of dog crap on the streets of Paris. To borrow a device from one of my favorite authors, Chuck Palahniuk: dégôutant isn't quite the right word, but it's the only one that comes to mind (oh but wait! revolting and disgusting are close seconds). Our street is particularly prone to poop; it's less busy car-wise, so makes for a nice street to take your pooch. Take your pooch-to-poop, that is.

Ever since reading Stephen Clarke's amusing A Year in the Merde, I've been pretty smug about never having stepped in any. I've even taught Camille to avoid it, generally by instilling the same hysteria and throwing a near conniption, shouting, "WATCH OUT FOR THE CA-CAAAAA!!" whenever she is within a 5 feet radius of it (which as I've stated, is often). I'm trying to train Roman, too, but at 19 months old, he is less hyper vigilante.

But my day of reckoning came about a week ago while walking to a friend's place in Neuilly when spppplattt!... I stepped in the merde. It's days like that when I miss the upstanding, dog-owning, pay-it-forward citizens of NYC who dutifully clean up after their dog's... um... duty. Pooper-scooper type fines exist for offenders here in Paris, but are seldom enforced.

While I concede that there are a herd of green-suited street cleaners in Paris, they are severely out-numbered by the piles of pooh. Generally, the grand boulevards shimmer, while the smaller, quainter streets- the ones you most like to meander through- are riddle with it. I implore you: never, ever walk between two parked cars. Just don't do it.

I'm told that a mayoral candidate ran on the campaign of cleaning up the streets of Paris. Not a bad idea, especially as some blame Paris losing the 2012 Olympics to London because of it's soiled streets. They might want to resurrect that campaign, I've got the perfect video for them.

Epilogue: I told myself I wouldn't do this, it's too gross... too scatological, but as if to underscore my point, this is what I saw on my walk home the day after I wrote the original post:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vevelty Undergrowth

My French can use a lot of work. Its a painful topic for me, as I'm not nearly at the level of fluency I would've hoped or expected to be by now. I shamelessly blame my children: "Alas, I must sacrifice my learning French for their learning English..." (This is kinda true.)

Still, I persist. Friend Dana from high school, who has lived here for 15+ years and had a supporting role in Michael Moore's Sicko (she was one of the Americans in the focus group), once reminded me of a time when our French high school teacher asked us on an exam, completely out of the blue:
"Comment dit-on (how does one say): Rome wasn't built in a day?" He wasn't predicting a Morcheeba smash hit, but it turns out he simply wanted the French equivalent of this expression, not the literal translation.

So while we were all struggling over how to conjugate the verb for "to build", the correct answer was simply and un-obviously:
"petit-à-petit, l'oiseau fait son nid." (To me, that sounds more like: "little by little, the bird makes his nest," but I quibble. I guess the French don't think too much about Romans, having an ancient related civilization of their own called the Gauls.)

That was an early lesson, and I while my French slowly improves I continue to learn that translations mustn't always be literal. You wouldn't want to say, for example, upon meeting your future in-laws for the first time and after eating a wonderful meal together,
"Je suis pleine" (I am full).

Unless, of course, you really were pregnant and felt like that would be an opportune time to mention it.

So I'm always a little surprised, given how many English speakers you can find around here, that folks who wish to translate a pretty fine menu from French into English, wouldn't ask one of their English-speaking buddies to do a quick QA.



This menu is from a lovely-looking place in Montmartre (my all time favorite 'hood) called Le Moulin de la Galette. Check out their site for a great overiew of the history of the restaurant and the area (for example, I learned that Renoir painted Bal du Moulin de la Galette here.) The site is in French and English (sort of).

The menu in French sounds delicious. In English, it sounds adorable.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Bal du Moulin de la Galette, 1876



Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Some metro stops are better than others.

Chatêlet is a messy metro exchange, always under construction and furiously footed with people trying to make a connection. But on a recent metro trip home with Camille from a play-date near Porte de Vincennes (the exact opposite side of Paris for us), we ran across this great performance which stopped us in our tracks.

Pun intended.

video

Monday, February 1, 2010

Try tying a yellow ribbon around this one.

This stunning old oak is called Le Chêne-Chapelle (the Oak Chapel), and can be found in a small, sleepy farming town in Normandie called Allouville-Bellefosse.

The tree was already 500 years old (give or take a score), when in 1669 the Abbot du Détroit and his dad decided to spend some father/son quality time together and re-purpose it as a chapel. A bolt of lightning had already gutted it. The priest built a small, and by small I mean itty-bitty, altar to the Virgin Mary. Years later, a second chapel and a staircase were added. Its one of the oldest trees (and the only chapel-in-a-tree) in France.

I dragged Franck and Camille there about two weeks before Roman was born. I suppose I was nesting. (heh, heh, nesting, get it?) I managed to fit into the chapel with my Buddha-belly, but barely. I've since taken my mom there with Roman after he was born. It's really fascinating. I bet even Tony Orlando would enjoy it.

It's a veritable witness to history, and barely survived the French Revolution. Today, parts of the tree have died and it's supported by wooden beams. Shingles serve as patches for missing bark.

Sadly, for this Old Grey Oak, she ain't what she used to be.

A view looking into the chapel, and a view looking out.

Before: exiting chapel with Camille (Roman in belly) After: Roman in stroller, age 2 months, in front of Le Chêne. He slept through the whole thing.


Monday, January 25, 2010

The Mighty Loing


I've been working like mad in the evenings after the kids have "fais dodo" to rebuild my iPhoto library. One not-too-smooth drag and drop months ago sent the entire photo library into a tail spin. It's tedious work and all the while I'm thinking how precarious the record of our memories is - they seem just a hard-drive crash away (one of the reasons I remain a fan of Polaroid instant film).

Yet this exercise has given me a chance to revisit many fond memories, and as it happens, especially of my early days in France when I was still reeling from the culture shock of living in a new country and being a new mother. I knew when I took this photo of the town where we first lived - the town where my daughter spent her first 5 months- that I'd look back in disbelief that I lived in such a beautiful place. The town is called Moret-sur-Loing, and is about an hour train ride outside Paris. It's has fewer then 5,000 people and sits on the "mighty Loing" as I called it, a river that feels little more than a creek. Still, it was buh-yooo-tiful, and I spent many happy days pushing my baby girl around its cobblestone streets while conjugating verbs in my head.

Impressionist and Englishman Alfred Sisley lived and worked in Moret and documented the town and its surroundings well. His home was just down the hill from our place. See Franck below searching for a bit of inspiration while standing in front of Sisley's studio.

Moret-sur-Loing, Alfred Sisley, 1888

"If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank" (Woody Allen)
LVM (le vieux moulin, no relation to LVMH): The Old Mill (INSEAD students lived there and held a weekly party on Thursdays)