Adieu

Originally emailed September 2001

 

Dear Family and Friends,

Our fantastic year in Paris came to a screeching halt on September 11th, 2001.

We were in a state of shock as we sat in front of the TV in utter disbelief and watched  two hijacked airplanes crash into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon and yet another in a field in Pittsburgh. It took hours of staring at the TV to unravel the events of the day. We feared for what might happen next.

Our first thoughts were of family and friends. We were unable to reach anyone by phone in the US. When we were not crying, we were numb. We had so many questions and so many fears.

I was most concerned about my son Steve and my niece Wendy who both live and work in NYC. Steve lives and works very close to the WTC.  Wendy works in the financial  district.

All we can think of to do is pray. For the past two weeks, the American Embassy has had yellow Keep Out tape around the premises.  Apparently they uncovered some type of security issue related to the US. We are not sure if that was related to the September 11th attacks.  There were armed guards on most street corners.  Garbage cans on the streets have been sealed.  Body searches performed in certain buildings.  All very scary and the atmosphere reminds me of the riots in Newark and Plainfield back in the 60’s in NJ.

Rob was the only one who got through to us by phone. He contacted the rest of the family before trying to reach us. They were all safe.  He checked with Kay’s family as well and they were all safe.

We spent this week glued to the TV trying to make sense out of the attack. I was reading the International Herald Tribune when  available and Kay was reading off the Internet. We were finally getting some news dripping in from family and friends.

When we were not away on one of our trips out of Paris, I would go to the neighborhood cigar shop to buy the newspaper.  There was always a line to the cash register.  I was always ready with the exact change for the paper.  The clerk never looked up as he collected my coins but would nod.  On the day after the attacks, he happened to look up at the line and saw me.  He stepped out from behind the register, walked over to me, put his arms around me and repeated and repeated, “Je suis desole.”  He never spoke to me before but apparently knew I was a regular customer and an American.

Some of the news from home is very sad of those we know who were killed in the attack. Kay’s friend Maureen who visited us here in Paris lost her son who worked in the Trade Center.  A lovely woman that worked for me in a gift shop I owned lost her son, a fireman who went in to rescue others. Unbelievable. Stories of narrow escapes abound. Reports of the number of deaths is very upsetting news.

From here in Paris, it sounds like President Bush is handling the situation with strength and compassion. He appears very focused. The country has reacted with enormous displays of patriotism. Other nations are united behind President Bush and offering their support. France’s President Chirac went to US to give his support in person. All of this is on the TV which is covering it 24 hours a day.

The French are holding moments of silence all over Paris. Traffic was stopped on the Champs Elysees. Churches were open for vigils from noon to three. The American Church had a service with speakers from the French government. Total body and belonging searches are continuing at the church doors. They are not taking any chances.  Security has always been very tight in Paris. More so now.

Embassies in London, Paris and Rome warned Americans to lay low and be very cautious. Of course, security visible in our neighborhood because many government workers live here in the 7th arrondisement.

Kay and I have decided to cut our year short and try to get home. We heard rumors that no one is getting flights.  After waiting in line, Air France graciously changed our tickets for an earlier departure. They were very understanding and sympathetic. Most everyone relieved that we are going home to US. We are very nervous about flying, anxious over what could happen yet eager to see our loved ones.

Our last few days here have taken on a very somber air.  We are torn between our great adventure and the sad news of the attacks.  We tried to have a celebratory dinner at Brasserie Balzac to say goodbye to Paris.  We ordered our favorite dinners, wine and Badoit.  The urge to share the reason for this dinner with anyone who would listen to us surprised us.

Our friends living in Paris gave us a farewell dinner at our favorite neighborhood  restaurant, Bistro 7thA..  They will remain in Paris.  We hugged and kissed and promised to meet again in the US. How lucky we were to make such warm friendships.

As we were waiting for the van to take us to the airport, our landlord, Patrick, and our neighbor, Claude, came over to give us a send off with champagne and gifts.  Patrick gave us Armagnac, a French brandy, in little Eiffel Tower bottles.  Claude gave me a book of French poems. He had tears in his eyes and said he was worried about an attack on Paris and about our safety in a plane flying back to US.

Adieu.

Le Tour Eiffel

Originally emailed September 6, 2001

Gwenda arrived on the Eurostar from Wales via London. I had such a fantastic trip when I visited her in Wales that I wanted her to have a great visit to Paris. This is not her first visit so I hope to show her new sights. She requested just a few things and I put them on the list. After some of my Onion Soup (a recipe I carry in my head and given to me by a friend from Little Rock, Arkansas using chicken broth not beef stock) and an apple torte from our bakery, we all hit the sack in preparation for a big sightseeing day.

First stop was Giverney, home and gardens of Claude Monet. Kay and I were here in June and the gardens were full of tulips, iris, lily of the valley, wisteria. Now there were cosmos, dahlias, some roses, impatiens, sunflowers and a few blooms on the lily pads. I saved enough time to visit the Flower Shop and found some wonderful seed packets for gifts. I used my walking stick that Rob bought me in Ireland and it helped the bad knee. We had a terrific guide who filled us in on lots of history in Monet’s time with some art appreciation bits. Now that I am more familiar with Monet’s works, I have a greater appreciation for the influence of the Japanese drawings he collected and used on his own work. This was noticeable also as we walked through the Japanese gardens. The weeping willows, often a topic of Japanese art, dipping into the pond were so beautiful.

Perhaps I have mentioned before about the luncheon at the Mill Pond which is part of this tour day. White tables under white umbrellas next to the Mill House and Pond are so picturesque. Some parties eat inside as well. The fare is always the same; salmon mousse, grilled rosemary chicken, salad, baguettes and apple torte. Excellent.

We sat with a woman from upstate New York traveling with her 87-year-old mother from Boca Raton. We were happy to meet them so Gwenda would have company for the second half of the tour. I could not tour Versailles Palace one more time. Museums I can do over and over but I draw the line on palaces. Kay agreed with me.

Instead, we strolled around the village. Town was cute with lots of pubs and cafes. It was raining so we popped in, had some drinks and listened to the locals chat at the bar. The trip back to Paris was on country roads and through quaint little villages. Gwenda was very pleased with the outing. She is very energetic and can walk for miles but we were all a bit tired. We got home late so we just snacked and watched “Million” on French TV.

“Million” is the only show we really have found to be fun to watch. The format is exactly the same as in the US. And the down time is the same waiting for answers which is advantageous for us. It gives us time to flip through the French-English dictionary and look up words so we can make an educated guess on the answer. We did quite well and considered this part of our education in learning the language.

Gwenda wanted to go to church with me so we did that on Sunday. She found it interesting even though she is not Catholic. We walked up rue Cler to the Sunday open market. i could hardly contain her. All the food does look delicious. We picked up fresh fruit and tomatoes and headed for the charcuterie. Gwenda could not resist the shrimp in dill sauce, marinated aubergine, thin sliced parma ham, roquefort and gorgonzola cheeses and individual artichoke topped pizzas. What a smorgasbord of a brunch we had that day.

After that feast, we took a bus to the Marmatton/Monet Museum to relive and revisit the gardens we saw yesterday at Giverney. It is impossible to skip the gift shop here. We did some damage and walked away with lots of gifts such as decks of cards with assorted Monet paintings, prints, pens, notepads.  You name it, they had it.. On the way back to the apartment, we hopped on Bateaux Mouches for a daylight ride up and down the Seine. The 13 bridges were quite different during the day than when they were lit up on the evening ride.

What to do on Gwenda’s last day? She had two requests – to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and to light a candle for her sister-in-law at Notre Dame. We bought fresh croissants for breakfast and walked off the calories over to the Eiffel Tower.

I have resisted going to the top of the Eiffel Tower all year. Gwenda challenged me. I bit the bullet and joined her. Not to say I was not terrified in the elevator. I must have made several strange sounds as the other passengers were laughing and enjoying my fright and misery.IMG_2736

We got off the elevator and I thought we were at the top. Nope. We had to get on another elevator to get to the tippy-top. I kept repeating, “omidgod.”  It was magnificent at the top as I gripped the railing with two hands. I was thrilled to see all of Paris and even able to point out my apartment building. It was a perfectly clear day and I could have stayed up there forever. Thank God I didn’t leave Paris without doing just that. I would have missed a memorable moment.

We took a two-bus ride to Notre Dame. The cathedral was completely open. I say this because it is not always open all the way to the furthermost altar. So we could walk right up to the Pieta and have a great view and read the inscriptions on the altar. Gwenda lit her candle. We wandered around the Latin Quarter and then in the direction of rue des Ecoles to see the Sorbonne and visit the Pantheon.

We stopped for a light lunch at Brasserie Balzar, a famous spot for many years. It preserved the old French atmosphere, polished dark woods, crisp white linens, heavy silverware, great dishes and glassware. The food is served by the tuxedo-ed  waiters from silver serving plates. Old world service. Several levels of staff – all efficient and friendly. Gwenda had fromage du jour which was a carrot based soup served from a tureen. I had smoke salmon served with fresh dill and creme fraiche on crisp toast on a silver plate covered  with white linen. Gwenda had a hot chocolate which was a sight to behold. I had this brasserie on my list from day one and never made it till now. It turned out to be my favorite restaurant of all Paris. Sorry I came to it so late.

On the way home, we stopped at St. Sulpice. Coincidentally, there was a huge military funeral going on. Flowers were banked on all the altars. The church was full and this is one big church capable of seating hundreds. Fantastic organ music was being played. We stayed just a few minutes before heading home.

The next morning Gwenda was up early and running over to the bakery to get fresh brioche, her personal favorite bakery item. We rushed over to Samarataine, a terrific department store where I hit on a coat sale back in November.  I had forgotten to pack a winter coat.  It was a two for one sale.  I purchased a red wool ¾ coat and a gray knotted fabric full length coat.  Gwenda picked up some French soaps and Chanel #19.  We had to force ourselves from shopping longer

Time up for Gwenda’s visit. She had a wonderful time and was a great guest. We have become new friends and I hope to get back to Wales someday…to visit the church where the statue gives the weather report…where friends gather to nibble on digestive biscuits and sing songs…where the people pursue the preservation of their language and the sheep outnumber the residents.  Maybe Gwenda will make her smoked haddock soufle!

“Drunk as an Owl”

Originally emailed September 3, 2001

As if by magic, on September 1st all the French return to Paris from their extended vacations (minimum six weeks in France) and the hot weather leaves and the cool weather arrives. We still have wonderful fresh vegetables like tomatoes, melons, butter lettuce and those heavenly skinny string beans. Fall merchandise is in the store windows. Butchers and bakers have reopened their shops. The flower shop has large vases of fall flowers displayed. Our neighborhood is alive with activity.

We are so happy to see the door open at our bakery downstairs. I went in and said “Avez vous passer une bonne vacance?” asking if they had a good vacation and from that moment forward, we were accepted into the neighborhood – after nine months! Kay now gets the most fresh and hot baguette available from the back of the bakery.

Six weeks and we will be coming back to US and saying farewell to Paris. What to pack for the US? Books? Gifts? What to throw away? What to leave for the next tenant? Ooh la la! How did we manage to accumulate so much stuff? We both had mixed feelings about the end of our year in Paris.

Just enough time to get in one last trip. We decided on Amsterdam. Once again we traveled on the train to Amsterdam via Brussels. The train was two trains attached to each other. They detach in Brussels and the front train continues to Amsterdam. Of course, we are on the back train because we had a late arrival due to heavy rain  and late bus. We discovered it when we could not find our seat numbers and after decoding the advice of the other passengers. Too late. The train left with us in the wrong car. As the train pulled in to Brussels, we were poised at the door to grab our luggage and make a run for it. Success. Just in the nick of time.

It was raining in Amsterdam as well. Our taxi driver was cranky. I had the name of our hotel but not the address. The driver said, “Madame, there are hundreds of hotels in Amsterdam.” We arrived at the Canal House Hotel after many aborted one way street episodes. We had a good laugh because the driver was not suited for this job.IMG_3017

The desk clerk told us we have one room for two nights only and will have to move to a more expensive room for the remainder of the visit. Then we are told our room is a little difficult to get to – an understatement. One cannot take luggage to this room because it can’t be negotiated down the narrow, spiral stairwell. No elevators. No regular stairways. Okay, back to the desk to request another room. The desk clerk’s solution is to reduce the rate of the room. No, that won’t help us get to the room. And what should we do with our luggage – leave it in the lobby and take out what we need? More laughing.

Happily, the clerk found us a room in another hotel up the street – with elevators, less money, and no changing of rooms. Wow, that was a reservation gone wrong. But no complaints because in the entire year of traveling, all hotels were very much to our liking.

No time to waste. We unpacked and with our umbrellas in hand headed for the tram to take a look at Amsterdam. Totally in the dark as to what languages spoken here –  clearly an assortment. Trams are fun as they have no fumes and the fares are so low. Amsterdam has a dark look probably because of all the brick construction and the weather conditions. At least 500 canal bridges and 2500 house boats add to the charm – read that in the guide book!  But it is true. Bicycles everywhere. One has to be very careful and look both ways so as not to step into the path of a bicycle or a tram. The canal water has a dark color but it is not dirty or littered, probably a reflection from all the brick buildings.

Found a kooky little restaurant with a mixed bag menu. Busy and noisy with high ceilings. We picked bread and tapenade for a starter and then enchiladas recommended by the two men sitting next to us. Tables were very close. Cost not even 70 krugers or $30 with wine. We thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and observing the many locals. Everyone was so happy.

Our room was very comfy with big, soft and plush beds each with lots of pillows. Beautiful new bathroom. Darling little bar in the lobby used also for the breakfast room in the morning. They had a great automatic cappuccino machine. One just presses the buttons for the combination, i.e. decaf, skim milk, no sugar. And lots of fresh fruit. Linens and fresh flowers on each table. I just love morning pampering.

There was a fascinating religious and cultural history of Jews in the Netherlands so we visited the Jewish Historical Museum. The best part was an interactive show on prejudices still alive today. They presented a situation and then gave us a selection of behaviors to use.

From here we walked to a Royal Delft Exhibit. We were able to watch the artists delicately hand paint the assorted blue and white pieces. Resisted the urge to buy a pitcher for my collection. How would I get it to Paris on the train without breaking it.IMG_3031

On the opposite side of this square, we went to the Diamond district. After a tour of the factory and a demonstration of diamond cutting, we had a private showing of pieces of jewelry. We sat in a locked room while the diamond pieces were brought in by an armed guard and unlocked from her arm. The jewelry was then opened and displayed on black velvet. We learned about color, clarity, cut and size of diamonds. Fascinating. I suspected the staff thought we were rich Americans ready to buy.  Ha ha ha.

We tried to find a Dutch restaurant but could only find other ethnic restaurants. The diamond merchant recommended a Chinese restaurant and we tried it. The tea tasted like potpourri. Yuch. So did the broccoli. Double yuch. But again, everyone so happy.

We certainly tried different things in Amsterdam. We went to a 3D presentation about Holland called the Holland Experience. It was a bit Disneyworld-ish – even the seats moved. But the show was wonderful. Moving through fields of colorful tulips was just spectacular. I could see perfectly well in 3D glasses – no cloudy look. Do ophthalmologists and cataract specialists know about this? It is now pouring rain and we left one of our umbrellas in the restaurant. The ticket office gave us one from the Lost and Found. We found such nice people everywhere.

Stopped at a market and bought some Dutch cheeses and wine.  Added that to our fruit from breakfast and had a picnic supper in the room. It felt great to dry off the wet clothes and squishy shoes and rest my knee and that nagging sore heel.  After months of no English speaking TV, we were happy to watch CNN for hours. Kay anesthetized with wine and I used Tylenol pm and the ice pack.

We spent the next morning at the Anne Frank House. The annex is housed in a contemporary looking museum and the material is beautifully presented with videos placed here and there using Anne’s words. The final video is Anne’s father speaking about his daughter after reading her papers following her death. We climbed the steep stairway and marveled at the tiny rooms where they lived for two years. Her story came alive to me as I climbed the steep stairway behind the bookcase to the tiny rooms the family managed to hide. Very moving experience.IMG_2478

It was good to take a canal bus ride and think about what life was like here centuries ago. It was raining again but the barges are covered with see through tops. I always enjoy seeing a city from the water, even the commercial areas.IMG_3025

A museum person would just love Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum as well as the Rijksmuseum filled with the Dutch painters – Rembrandt, Hals, and Vermeer . Both are located in a lovely plaza with bike paths, walkways, food stands, tables with umbrellas and many musicians playing classical music.  In the Van Gogh museum, the audio-tour featured letters of Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, which brought to life Van Gogh’s life and works. i particularly enjoyed his works from the years in Arles and now that I have seen it in person (Arles that is) it was so much more meaningful. I started to understand why Van Gogh chose to paint there and how he loved the light and how it brought the color to the fields. He greatly admired farmers and captured their work in his paintings. The life and death representations in the painting “Sower and Reaper” was illuminating.

As I stood in the Rijksmuseum, I thought of my Aunt Helen who would have loved seeing the Dutch painters from the Golden Age, her particular favorite.  I was just about to call it quits or at least take a break from hours of standing when I turned the corner into another room and there it was, Halle Babbe by Franz Hals, the painting Aunt Helen copied at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when she was an art student in NYC. She felt it was too large to hang in her house so she kept it in a closet and pulled it out occasionally.  She showed it to me several times and as I recall she said it was a portrait of Barbara Claes, probably a pub scene with her grasping a mug and with an owl on her shoulder.  There was a Dutch saying, “drunk as an owl.”   Malle, she explained, meant loony or crazy and possibly she was an alcoholic or suffering from mental illness.

The painting was on loan from a museum in Berlin.  There is also a copy in the Metropolitan Museum although it could be a copy from another artist.  Hals was admired and copied by many other artists. What a finale so I chose to leave the museum with this painting on my mind. There were several special experiences this past year that left me speechless. This was one I will never forget.

How could we leave Amsterdam without a visit to the Red Light District. I was pleased to see that the neighborhood was not seedy looking. Quite a few men, naturally, wandering around plus a small group of tourists giggling and carrying on. And us! Two sixty year old women in tennis sneakers, umbrellas turned inside out by the wind gusts and rain, hair wet and dripping, eyeglasses wet and fogged up – peering in the windows. What a sight!IMG_3018

As we wandered the streets and canals, I was looking for the Happy House. My son, Charly. spent a summer studying and traveling in Europe. I gave him a credit card to use in emergencies. He had only one charge – in Amsterdam at the Happy House. Charly claimed it was a chinese restaurant. Hmmm.

Kay and I had mixed feelings leaving Amsterdam knowing that it was our last trip of the year.  On the way back we reminisced about all the countries we visited and all the adventures and misadventures we had. We were very pleased with ourselves.

Where the Seine Meets the English Channel

Originally emailed end of August 2001

Did I mention that I still have a very painful and sore heel on my right foot from my last trip to the Louvre in flip-flops?  What was I thinking? I decided to grin and bear it because Lois is coming into Le Havre aboard the Royal Princess on the way to Iceland and I didn’t want to abandon my plans to meet her there for her one day layover.

Lois led the trip to Sicily last Easter and was a highlight of my trips this past year. For those of you who do not know Lois, she is a good friend who I met through mutual friends several  years ago.  Our paths crossed geographically without us knowing about it.  Her energy is unmatched. She is a walker who never fatigues.  All her friends struggle to keep up with her.  She is an Auntie Mame character who cannot get enough of life.  Her loyalty to friends makes her even more special.

Hit a few snags on this trip to Le Havre. I was on my own again. To start, the car I reserved was reserved for September instead of August so I had a three-hour wait while they found me a car. Le Havre turned out to be a driving nightmare with confusing one-way streets and beat up old street signs which were unreadable. For the first time all year, I felt travel weary.

At last I spotted a sign for my hotel which said 400M with an arrow to the right. I turned off but could not find the hotel. I circled around several times and even checked the other side streets around the sign. (It reminded me of the time the kids and I were driving around Washington DC attempting to visit the Lincoln Memorial.  We could see it plain as day but could not find the turnoff.  We continued to drive in circles around it until we finally broke into laughter).  No hotel in sight. I was getting a sinking feeling.  To add to my distress, I was driving a car with a clutch which was painful between the left knee and right heel. I’m falling apart at age 60! I finally laughed at myself.

I stopped at the first hotel on the arrow turn and went in to see if they ever heard of my hotel. “Oh, we are your hotel. We changed our name three years ago but not the signs,” explained the desk clerk. Not a good sign. Were they trying to hide from someone?

 

 

 

 

Finally, I got to the front desk determined to forget the interesting ride. They apologized but there was no single room for me and they claimed that they had faxed me in Paris. There would only be a double at double prices. I have no fax machine so I knew that was a lie. I showed them the confirmation I had received in the mail. I stood my ground and insisted that they honor it and give me a double room for single room price. So they were forced to find me a room but it would not be ready for three hours. Oh yes, I got the “shrug.”

Determined not to get annoyed,  I went to the dining room. In spite of the time {between lunch and dinner serving times] they took pity on me and agreed to serve me. There was a table with four people lingering over coffee. All the tables for two were covered with dirty dishes. I sat down at the only clean table but it was for four. “No, no madame, I cannot seat you at a four-top. You will have to wait for a clean table for two.”  Why? No one else is in the dining room.  Lunch was over. No one will even be coming for dinner for several hours.  I had to stand my ground once more. I stayed at the table, gave him a big smile, made believe I didn’t understand what he had said, and asked for a menu.

Speaking of not understanding the language. Isn’t it odd that no one speaks English in Le Havre, the Port of Europe, where huge cruise ships arrive every day with American tourists?

I tempted fate and ordered the steak. I figured that risking “mad cow disease” would be better than sinking my teeth into tripe or lapin, the only other offerings. No thank you. With my last sip of coffee and the waiter watching me take every sip so he can get me out of there , the room became ready.

Of course, this hotel is undergoing renovations so one has to take the elevator to the first floor, walk to the other end of the hallway, take another elevator to the third floor and walk back across the hotel. At last I arrived at my room. Just a slight problem – a man in my room in shorts and a sleeveless undershirt smoking a big cigar. Back to the lobby. Again I pulled out my confirmation letter for “Non fumer” or no smoking room. Now it will be another hour to find me a clean, non-smoking room without Tony Soprano in it. Lots of shoulder shrugging and eye rolling going on.

I pulled my luggage over to the lobby and sat down in a wicker chair and opened my book to wait. A man walked up to me and asks me to please leave the chair as he has reserved this part of the salon (lobby) for a business meeting. Back to the dining room with my luggage and another grumpy puss where I get the “dinner does not begin until 8 pm” routine. Where can I sit down, I ask. La toilette? Le curbe? Le tapiz? La rue?

It is now six pm and we (the sullen desk clerk and I) are off to my new room with some trepidation on my part. Finally a clean room. Spotless but hideous. The toilet and sink look like space ships. Couldn’t figure out whether to brush my teeth or pee in them. More good news – extra pillows and towels. Better news – Sports Channel on TV with early rounds of US Open Tennis. Yippee.  Room service. Heaven.

Now I try to find out where to locate the Royal Princess in this huge port. Found the phone book and started trying to use the phone. It had a busy signal. By 7 pm I try to call the front desk. Still busy. Off I go down the zig zag route to the front desk. No English speaking help. No Info # to call. I figured out that the desk clerk was telling me that I am dialing too fast and that is why I get a busy signal. All this conversation was in sign language and the making of phone sounds.

Trek back to the room. Dial slowly. No luck. Back to the desk. They hate me at the desk. I can see it in their eyes.  I insist on seeing the manager. He was almost cross-eyed listening and interpreting my dilemma. He gave me the same song and dance about dialing too fast.  Who ever heard of that? Finally the manager headed to the room with me limping behind. He tried the phone. “The phone does not work.” He is fit to be tied. He has been humiliated. I was right and he was wrong. They really hate me now.

Guess what? I was getting yet another room. Settled into my new room. Peed in the space ship. Dialed the cruise line number. Everything in the Port is now closed and won’t open till 9 am. I am scheduled to meet Lois at 8 am. This was a mess.

I ordered a wake-up call for 6 am. Settled down with luke warm tea and the US Open. I was totally exhausted.

In spite of exhaustion, sleeping was fitful. The room was right next to the RR track. Freight trains ran all night long. And guess who does not get a wake-up call at 6 am. It was inevitable. Maybe they did it on purpose as they truly despise me. I was now paranoid. I fear this email is sounding a bit like those boring missives attached to Christmas cards with way too many details.

Woke myself up at 7 am. Jumped in the car to find the Royal Princess in 45 minutes. Headed for the main Port entrance. Spotted a huge cruise ship in the distance. If there is a God, it would be the Royal Princess. I wiggled my way towards it going over bridges, causeways, etc. I made a turn around a warehouse on a cobble stone driveway and voila! The Royal Princess. It is 8:01 am and Lois is waving from the top of the gangplank. There is a God.

IMG_2837

Lois ran back aboard the ship and grabbed me a cup of coffee and a bran muffin. We ate in the car and mapped out the day. We decided to go to Liseaux to see St. Therese. We were chatting away and missed our turn at one of the “Toutes Directions” circles. So we stopped at a service station where two happy clerks were delighted to help two American women – lost and “en vacances.” They pulled out several maps and pointed the tangled way back to Liseaux. At their suggestion, we decided to scrap that trip and head for the Alabaster Coast (called that because of the milky water and chalky coastline).

We first stopped at Fecamp, a picturesque ville with a cathedral whose apse was the size of the one at Notre Dame. IMG_2846The altar contained the imprint of an angel’s foot. I believed it. The town was filled with quaint doorways, arches, stonework with seashells or snails or fish. We peeked into houses through the lace curtains. Lots of seashore related items in the shops.

We walked to the Benedictine Abbey at the other end of town where the monks make the liqueur with twenty-eight herbs and spices. I could have easily been talked into a sip of brandy.

 

 

 

As we drove along the coast to Entretat, we happened on a high rent district filled with charming seaside estates. Lots of courtyards and gardens with umbrellas and trellises similar to Bay Head. Spotted a sign “Auberge” and pulled in for a late lunch in a gracious garden restaurant.IMG_2852 We tried the seafood – mussels for Lois in an iron kettle – poached dorado for me in a lemon sauce. Yummy.

Continued to head for Entretat. What luck that we would explore a seashore town – two Jersey Shore girls. It was great to breathe the salt air again. Crowded but cute. So this is what the French version of Point Pleasant, NJ looks like. We took turns watching our illegally parked rental VW to run up to the beach with all the other tourists to glimpse the “Elephant” carved out of the coastline by tides – his giant trunk dipping into the ocean. Magnificent.

 

 

 

Poked our way back to Le Havre just in time for a cold drink and meet Lois’s ship mates before the Royal Princess headed for Iceland. I waved from the shoreline as they sailed into the English Channel. The day made all the other misadventures worthwhile. Lois was so patient with my driving (impaired by the need for cataract surgery causing me to occasionally hit a curb) and my walking (impaired by the knee and heel causing me to limp along slowly). I am sure you are bored with my ailments.  So am I.IMG_2840

Stayed overnight in my favorite hotel, smiled at my favorite desk clerk, watched tennis, listened to the trains until early am when I brushed my teeth in the space ship and caught the train back to Paris.

 

 

 

 

Friends Who Love Things French

 

Originally emailed mid July, 2001

Kay’s daughter, Darlene and family were visiting for a week.  Darlene and her husband, Chuck, left us with their children, Justin and Brianne, for a few days while they did some of their own sightseeing,

What a kick having Kay’s grandson around who wanted to know everything about Paris, the food, the language, etc.  One morning, he joined me as I did the shopping on rue Cler, the most famous open market in Paris just one block away from our flat. He skateboarded along side me and wanted to know the French words for my purchases.  We stopped at the outdoor café.  I let him order a hot chocolate and a basket of croissants on his own which he totally demolished. I noticed he was watching the men standing at the bar inside the cafe smoking and having their morning coffee.  Try it, I said and gave him some francs.  He went right up and stood among the men as if he did it every day and ordered a coffee, “un café s’il vous plait.” Perfect French.

 

Then I gave him more francs and sent him inside the supermarche to purchase some canned tuna and mayo for his sister. Not too wild about mysterious food or cheese, Brianne was missing tuna fish sandwiches.

During the summer the Tuilleries (park and gardens) have a carnival so we took the kids to that after they roller-bladed in the squares by Napoleon’s tomb. One jof the rides at the carnival would shoot two people up to the moon (it seemed) in a ball tethered to the base on the ground. I resisted the challenge by Justin. My excuse was that his parents would not approve!

The same week, my friend, Leigh Anne, came  for a visit.  She has always loved everything French.   I tried to map out a plan so she could see as much as possible in her short stay.

We occasionally have crossovers of guests but we always manage to make it fun for all. Leigh Anne arrived to a house full. Knowing that my “museum buddy” would suffer from jet lag, I let her unpack and we headed to the Marmatton/Monet Museum without a nap. This is usually a good strategy. This museum is absolutely one of my favorites. I chose to show her this one first because of its peaceful atmosphere.

 

We sat on the benches in the lower level and chatted for ages surrounded by six of Monet’s lily pad series. The rooms are painted a creamy white and the floors are pickled so the floor to ceiling murals really stand on their own with no distraction. I’ve spent many hours here this year. The second floor exhibit changes and today there were many of Berthe Morisot’s paintings. Berthe is another one of my favorite impressionists. Not only was she an artist but the subject of other impressionists.IMG_2471

We strolled over to Trocadero (across the Seine by the Eiffel Tower) and had a late lunch at an outdoor café. You can really feel the spirit of Paris on this corner in addition to the best view of the Eiffel Tower. We ate terrific salads and sipped some white wine. The French excel at salad plates. I probably mentioned that my favorite is salade chevre chaude.  Who wouldn’t like melted cheese on baguette toasts drizzled with olive oil? There were wonderful postcard stands here as well with lots of black and white photograph cards. We were both unable to resist purchasing a bagful.

There were bodies sleeping everywhere in the apartment. Leigh Anne could not sleep partly due to jet lag and part to excitement. Some visitors just can’t get their clocks adjusted on arrival. We played musical beds trying to find her a comfortable spot but that was not the problem.  Even tried some Valium. Nothing seemed to work.  At five in the morning I saw her doing yoga exercises in the kitchen!

This did not damper Leigh Anne’s sightseeing spirit. We make terrific museum buddies. We headed for Notre Dame, on her list of must-see spots, and stopped for another yummy brunch at a sidewalk cafe. IMG_2739 People watching in Paris is the best entertainment while resting your feet. If you can add a crepe or salad and wine to the sport, it is perfect.  Cute American couple sat next to us who looked bewildered.  I remembered the feeling so I helped them with the menu and some directions. They felt so much better. I am now such an expert! Spent the rest of the day strolling in some of the best shopping areas.  IMG_2808Leigh Anne liked the “white blouse store.” Imagine a store devoted to just one item. Early to bed for Leigh Ann. It finally caught up with her and she was finally able to sleep.

Another day – another museum. My #3 favorite – the Rodin Museum. It was a gloriously sunny day and the gardens were full of colorful cosmos. Leigh Ann was happy to spend lots of time viewing Rodin’s works and jimagining what it was like in Rodin’s day. Originally this museum housed many artist and dance studios including Rodin himself. The high ceilings and windows lent so much to his collection.

Rodin’s The Thinker sits outside and if you stand at the right angle you can capture the gold top of Napoleon’s tomb in the background for a great photo.IMG_2473 We met Kay and her newest house guests, relatives from NJ, for lunch at a nearby café and had crepes of every variety. Some like them sweet and some like them savory.  My favorite was crepes with ham and melted cheese.  The others chose crepes stuffed with fruits, syrups, caramel, chocolate and the ever popular Nutella, a chocolate and hazelnut butter. No one ordered crepes suzette, more of a dessert item. This particular café served a small side salad with the crepes, rare for lunch. We were all content.

For some night life fun, we ventured to a nightclub, The Lido. I actually prefer the Moulin Rouge show which is a display of costumes, music and dancing not to be believed. The Lido quality is not quite as good, in my opinion, and the “vaudeville” acts were only fair and way too many boobs flopping about. I suspect that the audience did not find the show funny but we could not contain our laughter in true American style. After all, we were Americans in Paris seeing bare breasts on stage for the first time.

Sent Kay’s guests along with Leigh Ann to Giverney, home of Monet and his lily gardens, and Versailles, the palace that served as the residence for Louis XIV,  while Kay and I prepared for a dinner party.IMG_2744 We invited Marie and Tim, Rene, Michel, Anne Marie and William from my French class and Deanna, Stephane and Charly from church to join the party. Stuck to my famous chicken casserole, now affectionately named “Madame’s Poulet” with the skinny string beans (haricot vert) along with butter lettuce (laitue beurre) salade, baguettes, fresh strawberries (framboises) and apple tart (tortes aux pommes).  Another great dinner party with the Eiffel Tower watching over us. Pinch me.IMG_2245

The summer heat was so oppressive that we decided to go to an air-conditioned museum. This is my #2 favorite – the Musée d’Orsay. Originally a train station, it was converted to a museum to house the Impressionists –  at that time the French wanted them out of the Louvre. The design of the station is wonderful especially the big old clocks and open galleries.

 

I decided to carry my cane today and it worked fine except it occasionally skidded on the marble floors. We stopped for a leisurely lunch in the very fancy garden room restaurant overlooking the Seine.  The weather was still hot but there was a delightful breeze on the portico.

I felt so elegant in my French straw hat, purchased in a quaint little hat shoppe next to St. Sulpice, and my walking stick. It was just an elegant lunch with eggplant salad and fresh fish, white wine and Badoit.  Badoit is a sparkling water similar to Perrier. It is the sparkling water of offering in most French restaurants. I just like saying it – “badwah.” We felt very pampered by our waiter who was fussing over Leigh Anne.

 

That evening we took the boat tour sans dinner and drinks – just the plain boat tour. It was a welcome breeze on such a hot day. Paris from the Seine is gorgeous. Every bridge has a personality of its own. The boat was crowded and Parisians standing on the bridges to escape the heat of their apartments waved to us.

 

 

What’s a museum tour without including the Louvre. Foolishly and accidentally, I wore flip flops to the Louvre. One does not wear flip flops on marble floors for six hours. We conquered the Louvre in that time span.  Leigh Anne was disappointed that the Egyptian section was closed for repairs that day. But the new Dutch and Flemish wing was finally open. I.M. Pei designed this section. Very unusual with rooms of deeply colored walls, the new fad at museums to make the art stand out more. The paintings were magnificent. We took a coffee and baguette break. The Louvre is so crowded and alive. Millions come through here and share the excitement of seeing the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus de Milo and my favorite, Psycho and Cupid surrounded by art and artifacts beyond the imagination. There is always a crowd around the Mona Lisa waiting to get a closer look.  The painting is much smaller than I thought. It is in a vacuum sealed glass fixture to prevent aging and fading. My museum buddy was thrilled.

After a quick refresher and along with Kay’s guests, we headed to Le Train Bleu for a farewell dinner to Leigh Anne. But it was steamy hot with no AC so we opted to leave and  search for a cooler cafe. We headed back to our own neighborhood by bus to Bistro 7th ‘A” that serves the best sautéed chicken livers atop greens. None of our guests believed it until they tasted it. We were happy to sit outside where the air was moving.. I insisted they try the most sinful dessert – a version of peach melba but with pears. They agreed it was superb. I counted the table tops and this tiny restaurant seats 30 diners at the most. Al the dishes were prepared to order and were the best I had in Paris. I have been holding back on using French expressions.  This called for an exception…”Mon Dieux.”

Leigh Anne left early the next am. I think she was delighted with all she saw and did. And I have become a pretty good guide and may consider this my new vocation. The heat hit again and Kay and I decided that her guests needed a day off from sightseeing. We spent it leisurely in the apartment drinking lemonade, playing cards and soaking our feet in ice.

And then suddenly, the apartment is empty of guests.  Kay and I are expecting more company.  But first I will meet up with Lois in  Le Havre.

If it is not the knees, it is my feet. My right heel is screaming at me, “Are you nuts walking in the Louvre on marble floors in flip flops?” I need a caretaker.

Goodnight Sweetheart, It Is Time To Go

Originally emailed July 2001

No more travel plans for me. Running out of $$$. The stock market has put a serious dent in my finances…bad timing. Why oh why did I fall for that Financial Advisors’ advice to buy Enron stock? Question; could it have been that he was handsome with a great personality and took me to dinners until I signed up? Plus, I have estimated quarterly taxes due in September. Another question; why do I pay taxes on money I earned and already paid taxes on?

So I am happily continuing with French classes and being an expat in Paris.

I had a date with Henri, the professor I met at Alliance Francaise in the cafeteria. Just call me Kelly Kelly – Cheers episode reference. He took me to a French home for a party. Henri has that rumpled absent-minded professor look – a man who clearly spends little time dressing. But he arrived for our date in matching clothes and combed hair in an attempt to impress me. He did. The dinner party was at the home of his friends and located in the neighborhood where he lived.  He came by taxi to pick me up.

The apartment was beautiful in a great old building with that wonderful French architecture and an enormous double entryway from the street.  The home was decorated all in warm shades of soft beiges. The furniture was mostly antiques except for the lamps. I cannot figure out where the French find their ugly lamps. They just don’t fit in. The good news is that they love dim lighting which is flattering to the complexion and does not draw attention to the lamps themselves.

The hostess prepared three tables with floor length linen cloths covered with fish, cheese and fruit, dessert…all catered by Fauchon La Madeleine, a very classy two-floor delicatessen.IMG_2703 A very cute girl in a short black dress and cap poured wine and removed dirty ashtrays. The French just nibbled on the food but drank lots of wine.  I searched for a plate to put on a few samples of the food but there were none… just tiny saucers that fit one little selection. Clearly I spent more time standing at the food tables than the other guests who just picked. I was so hungry and felt it was a sin for all that glorious food go to waste.IMG_2700 I used a lot of those Alice in Wonderland tea party saucers with questionable looks from the French maid. I would have killed for a Tab with ice. The Ugly American!

The next day I looked up Fauchon on the computer to see if I could put a name to the wonderful food.  From the fish table, the scallops with clementine, pumpkin and chestnut crumbs were just delicious.  Along with all the cheese selections were various terrines. My favorite was the duck foie gras with apricot compote. I could not resist trying something at the dessert table. I tried the most beautiful “bisou-bisou” (translated kiss-kiss) which looks like red lips and described as a raspberry compote on a vanilla biscuit covered with a vanilla ganache.IMG_2695 I noticed that the other guests favored the macaroons not like our coconut macaroons but two cookies with icing in the middle which came in assorted sizes and flavors.img_2699.jpg

Back to the party…the guests all spoke French and after a few polite attempts at English, they pretty much ignored me the rest of the evening. They were all intellectual types and had some very animated conversations that I would have loved to hear. Henri translated but he was getting tired of that by the end of the evening too. I don’t think he ate a thing except some bread and cheese. I would have loved a doggie bag.

Ah yes, now to the end of the evening. Henri put me in a taxi and he tried to climb in with me. I told him since he lived right in the neighborhood where the party was that he didn’t have to take another taxi ride and that I would be fine on my own. Henri said and I quote, “But I wanted to come to your flat and give you the opportunity to ____me.” EEK.

When I told him, “No merci, pas ce soir”, he got out of the cab and sulked away. The cabbie laughed all the way back to my apartment. When I got out of the taxi, he shrugged his shoulders, winked at me and said, “Ah, amour!” Maybe I am too old for this.

To top it off, Luc, who was at the party and in the same group of teachers I meet for coffee in the am, asked me at the party to go to an exhibition at Musee D’Orsay on Sunday afternoon. This museum was originally a train station that now creates great spaces for paintings and sculptures.

 

I was really excited because I liked him better than Henri. I wonder why I seemed to be so popular. Maybe it was the wig. On Sunday morning, I changed my clothes twenty times at least.  Guess what. When I met him at the museum, he arrived with another woman on his arm. I was crushed and puzzled.

After browsing through the museum, we went for coffee in a garden cafe tucked in the corner of the sculpture collection overlooking the Seine. Only they had wine instead of coffee and half way into the second bottle they start to giggle and brace yourself for this one – she (SHE) puts her hand on my leg and whispers that we should all go to her flat for “ménage à trois.” You already know how bad my French is but there was no misunderstanding those three words. Double EEK. What did I do to get myself into this situation? I threw some francs on the table, said au revoir and made a hasty getaway not caring a wit what they thought of me.

Monday morning in the cafeteria, Henri and Luc were sitting together talking to the other professors and all were laughing. When they saw me, they stopped. I felt like I did when I was a teenager in my high school days. No plans to sit at their table so I joined my classmates at another table and they were happy to see me.  There is a God.

You can’t say I haven’t had some experiences here in Paris.

We’re Havin’ A Party…

 

Originally emailed August 2001

Company has kept me very busy. I love sharing Paris with friends and relatives. However, I just cannot visit the Eiffel Tower one more time. I sit and wait on a bench while the company takes the ride up. Not me. I live in fear of few things, one being open elevators. I gaze up longingly as my guests enjoy the view of Paris.IMG_2736

The museums I could do forever. And I love the night cruise on the Bateaux Mouches. I always enjoy visiting Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle, Sacre Coeur and St. Sulpice over and over – hoping some good might rub off on me!

French classes have also been time consuming between the two hour classes, two hour commutes, and HOMEWORK. But I have loved every minute. I have been the oldest in the classes and usually the only American except in this last session where there were four Americans.

My last session was a lively group of young kids from all over the world. One of the students, Mohsen, had a party at his apartment. He requested that we all bring food from our native country. He was an Iranian who was forced to fight in the war when he was a child.  It was chilling to hear that he was recruited and forced to learn to kill. He fled his country on foot.  He later was married to a lovely Dutch woman who worked in tforeign service and was stationed in Paris.IMG_2769

I thought about what type of food to bring for a long time. Apple pie? No, I can’t bake. How could I compete with the French apple tart? Hot dogs? No, they have them in Paris tucked in baguettes covered with cheese.  What other food was truly American? I decided to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread. I found the ingredients in a tiny shop called The Real McCoy specializing in foods that ex-pats can’t find in France – Jello, Campbell soup, Jiffy popcorn, Hellman’s mayo and breakfast cereals. In addition, they prepare turkey dinners to go for Thanksgiving.

The guests loved the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I cut into fours and piled up on a platter. Mohsen placed it on the coffee table in the living room.  I think he thought it was an appetizer. Once the guests tasted them, they knelt around the coffee table and dug in.  Most had never tasted these sandwiches and were licking their fingers. Who would have thought that French wine would go with PB and J? The four Americans found it hard to believe that such an American staple would be the hit of the party.A success 209

Otther students brought exotic dishes – Dutch pickled herring, Korean kimchi, Iranian jujeh kabab, Turkish curry chicken, Chinese satays on skewers, South African yams and coconut dessert morsels, Chilean fish cakes,  Thai drunken noodles, Argentina chimichuri and French champagne. All those fabulous dishes and the only empty platter at the end of the party was the American one.A success 132

What a hoot it was to sit down and share these foods with people whose only common language was the French we were learning in class. Food was the glue that held the party together.  Everyone knew how to say yummy.

Towards the end of the party when we were all replete and stretched out on the furniture and floor, we quietly listened to the young man from Korea describe as best he could in broken French and some English his life there and how his father who spoke out against the regime over what he thought made bad government decisions was killed.  A Turkish man told us that his sister was sold into a marriage for money and jewelry.  He feared for his other sister so he and his mother helped her escape out of the country.  From the time he got them out of Turkey, he had not seen them again and had no idea where they were or if they were safe.  Since they left their home, there was no way to stay in touch. A young woman from Vietnam described the history of her family’s involvement in the Vietnam War.  Generations had lived through the war.  Her family was pro-American and aided the US soldiers when needed, such as, medical help and a place to rest and recuperate.

Others had stories but none so stirring as our host, Mohsen, who told us that he would have rather died than take someone else’s life. As a very young man, he escaped Iran on foot with little money, a few pieces of his mother’s jewelry and a sack of food  The food did not last and he feared he would be killed scavenging for more. He had tears in his eyes as he told us that he left his family and belongings behind but the armed conflict and militant Islamic movements gave him no choice.  He said that he looked presentable and fit in the landscape in most countries.  He attributed his safety to remaining unnoticed as best he could.  Once out of Iran, the trek across other countries began. He did odd jobs and kept moving. He landed in the Netherlands when he felt safe enough to stop running where he later met his wife.  He had to stop talking because it was too painful to remember.

I had no story to tell because I came from a country where freedom lived. I had never seen war on our soil.  I never experienced communism or oppression or hunger or poverty. The others had many questions about America. What they knew of America was mostly from movies, magazines and newspapers.  They all talked about going to America some day. One young girl said, “I am very beautiful and will go to Hollywood to be in movies and eat ice cream every day.” The other guests cheered