January 31, 2012

A rainy day is no excuse!

“The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain.”
 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sitting in the bus on my way home after having eaten too much Japanese what-shama-call-it for lunch, I feel like I could do with a long run. But alas, it is pooring outside!

Next thing I know, I am on the phone to my dear Swiss friend who is giving me a piece of her mind about me-not-wanting-to-go-running-in-the-rain. "I don't care if your nostrils start to freeze, you get your rear end out there and go for a run. Rain and cold weather are NO excuse!" I love my friend, she is so down to earth. She gives me good dose of pragmatism whenever she thinks I need it.

I have been lucky enough to live in Spain and Southern Switzerland for the past decade where the weather remains fair throughout most of the year, and when it rains you do not go out! You DO go out when it snows however! ;)

Anyway, I have embraced my new attitude to being active even in the rain and have been out running ever since. All I am missing is the proper running gear!!!

January 30, 2012

Masterpieces at the Musée d'Orsay

“Love of beauty is Taste. The creation of beauty is Art.”
 Ralph Waldo Emerson

The "new" Musée d'Orsay has has reopened its upper floors and I got the chance to see the masterpieces of the 19th century in their new galleries. For several years this museum has been undergoing restoration on the upper floors and many of its beautiful works have not been on show.

Built on the left bank of the Seine, opposite the Tuileries Gardens, the museum was originally a railway station built by Victor Laloux for the Orléans line and was inaugurated at the World's Fair of 1900. At the station's opening, painter Edouard Detaille said presciently: "The station is superb and looks like the Palais des Beaux Arts." By 1939 it was already obsolete, its platforms too short for the new modern trains that appeared with the electrification of the railways.

Today its impressionist and post-impressionist collection boasts 34 Manets, 86 Monets, 43 by Degas, 56 Cézannes, 46 Sisleys, 81 Renoirs, 24 Van Goghs and 24 Gauguins, among others, that help to pull in around three million visitors a year.

It has taken almost €8m to create the new galleries – part of a two-year renovation of the museum costing €20m – in which clever use of colour and illumination shows the works in an entirely new light.

modern parquet with high tech benches

I joined a tour that focussed on the Impressionists and those who celebrated the modern life of their day. I learned about the historical background and the stories of the painters and their lives, many of whom endured years of hardship and incomprehension. I admired works by Monet, Manet, Courbet, some delightful works by one of the few women Impressionists Berthe Morisot, the iconic painting known as ‘Whistler’s mother’, the famous dancers by Degas, Renoir’s Dance at the Moulin de la Galette set in the dance hall in Montmartre, and Van Gogh’s powerful expressive works. I also saw the fascinating model of Opera Garnier and the sculpture of the Dance, by Carpeaux, which was considered too scandalous for the Opera House facade.

On my way out I could not resist a quick coffee at the stunning new café designed by Brazilian brothers Humberto and Fernando Campana which turned out into a lovely, reflective contemplation on the beauty of Paris.

January 27, 2012

A really positive week

"The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts; therefore guard accordingly."
Marcus Aurelius

This has been a good week. It has done wonders to my ego, not that I am really lacking any of the latter but positive reinforcement always cheers me up, even when it comes from strangers.

Every move comes with its ups and downs. The expats will confirm that you go through a great deal of roller coaster emotions in the first 3 to 6 months after arriving at your new destination.

Of all my expatriations I cannot, however, remember ever having a week like this past one. I kept finding myself smiling over and over again. Today I have come to the conclusion that I like Paris and therefore officially declare it my new home.

We arrived on August 30th, 2011, so five months ago.

But let me spill the beans...

Monday began with a friend asking me if I could be her guinea pig for a new character coaching method. Guess what, it was all about your personal strengths. I got to talk about myself for two hours while she pinpointed my positive sides. Trust me, we found lots of them. That was the easy part. The one question I could not answer was: "What do you NOT like doing?". This took me completely by surprise because all I could think of is: housework and standing in line. How bad is that?

The next positive incident was a huge big compliment about my Swiss blog posted on English forum Switzerland by a total stranger who recommends reading my Expat with Kids blog to help lift one's spirits while providing practical information about Lugano. It resulted in over 400 pageviews that day and thus a very chuffed me. Mille Grazie!

Wednesday I received my French car permit, therefore I am officially a Parisian driver now. That can only be a good thing, right?

Thursday I was submerged in my i-phone GPS looking for a Mac accessory store when a bunch of French teenage boys past me and asked: "Bonjours Madame. Vous êtes une cougar?". Believe me THAT put a big smile on my face. What killed me was the Madame-bit that they so politely added.

To top it all off, today my gym trainer who has seen me probably six times so far, shyly asked me: "Faites-vous beaucoup de sport?" (Do you do lots of sports?). "Oui" was my answer but why do you ask. Yeah, maybe I WAS fishing for a compliment there?!? His answer: "Vous avez des abdos bien faits! (You have nice abs!) ..... Wow, if the Cougar comment was funny, this just blew me away! Ok, so I do have abs but they are well hidden below a layer of decades-of-LOTS-of-chocolate-eating, honestly!

As a friend of mine commented:  A "cougar" with "abdos bien faits" - terrific I would say :). I couldn't agree more.

Thank you everyone for making this a terrific week!

January 26, 2012

Where do the Chinese fit in?

"When the heart is at ease, the body is healthy."
Chinese Proverb

Last Monday the Chinese celebrated their New Year. This event has never actually concerned our household in the past .... but then again, we weren't living in Paris and the kids didn't attend the International school.

All this has changed. Expat girl came back from school on Monday with a new trophy: a fortune cookie and was very surprised to find out that Mummy actually knew what it was! Her good fortune was: "Be the first, the best or be different". I couldn't have phrased it any better myself, honestly. That's my girl!!!

Before going to bed Expat girl pulls out a golden envelop and urges me to enter into the Google translator webpage. Why? She needs to translate Happy New Year into Chinese in order to hand write it on the envelop she received from a Chinese friend at school. She is eight years old!!!

Having ceremoniously tucked it under her pillow, she is expecting anything between 4 cents and 20 Euros to appear in the envelop by the next morning. That is, of course, (she adds) if they make it all the way from China. I am wondering: "Who are THEY???"

We celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, Samichlaus, Father Christmas, Gesu Bambino, Los Reyes and la Befana in our household, do we REALLY need yet another tradition? But hey, the kids are into it, even Expat boy assembled his own Chinese envelop just in case THEY do make it to France all the way from China to leave some money as good fortune.

Today I was walking through the 11th arrondisement and nearly jumped out of my whits when a bunch of fire crackers went off behind me. The local Chinese shop owners were holding their ceremony by offering a bunch of lettuce to the three dragons that were making their way down the very crowded street. I'm assuming that feeding the dragons brings good fortune for the coming year, but why lettuce, I wonder?

I guess I'll have to wait for that answer a few years until Expat girl brings home a Chinese boyfriend! ;)

In the meantime, Happy Chinese New Year to you all!

Happy Chinese New Year

January 24, 2012

France receives top marks for raising Expat children abroad???

When your kids' life story uses the phrase “Then we went to…” five times, you KNOW they are expatriates.

Well, according to HSBC's Expat Explorer Survey France tops the 2011 Raising Children Abroad league table. This is news to me but, hey, maybe I should ask my kids directly? I have a little project lined up for this weekend. I am also curious to hear what the kids' school opinion is on this subject. So keep posted.

Following are the article's findings:

France tops the 2011 Raising Children Abroad league table, ranking 1st for childcare and integration and 2nd for health and wellbeing.

2nd for health and wellbeing? Hello???? (Sorry, it just popped out of my mouth!)

The country comes highly recommended by expat parents, providing a location in which children can easily integrate and experience a healthier lifestyle while offering more cost effective education and childcare solutions.

Expat parents in France are more likely to say their children are not missing friends and family at home (58%) compared to the global average (35%), perhaps due to children here being more likely to keep in touch with those back home (58% v average of 53%). These results suggest that expat children in France are less likely to experience homesickness as a result of relocating.

My 12-year old son does not agree with this statement!

Parents in France are also much more likely to say that the social integration of their children had either improved or stayed the same (89%) compared to a global average of (78%) with only Australia (93%) scoring higher.

Not sure yet. Too early to judge.

The findings of Raising Children Abroad also suggest that expat parents living in France are more likely (27%) than average (17%) to agree that they were able to spend much more time with their children in comparison to their home country. 53% also agreed that their children spent more time outdoors, 47% that their children spent more time playing sports and, 62% that they felt their children were safer since relocating.

At this point I am wondering: " Where DID you move from?"

Another reason why France performed so well this year could be down to its favourable rankings in terms of the cost of childcare and education. 44% of expats reported that the overall cost of raising children was cheaper in France than in their home country compared to just 21% overall.

They obviously were not moving from a Swiss public system which - believe it or not - costs next to nothing.

Even though France ranks 5th in terms of quality of childcare, it has the lowest average annual childcare costs - with expat parents here spending just $5,562 each year on childcare for their children, compared to a global average of $7,534.

Furthermore, while half of expats in France report a higher quality of education than in their home country, expat parents here generally spend considerably less on this aspect of raising children. Expenditure on education in France has an average annual cost of $6,780.30 compared to a global average of $11,558.94.

What is your opinion?

January 23, 2012

Visiting an empty French Senat

“When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer "Present" or "Not Guilty."”
Theodore Roosevelt

The other day, I followed the proposal of a very well-organized lady to join her on the tour of the Palais du Luxembourg, home of the French Senat. I figured it would be very instructive. The tour was impressive due to the lovely building and it's interior design. You could feel the "Grandeur des Français" of past times throughtout the whole tour.

I was not impressed when we reached the Chamber of Sessions just to find it empty. Guess what, it's Friday and no senators are to be seen. Usually there are 343 senators who are assisted by specialised civil servants and parliamentary aides. In all, 2000 people work here. We didn't get to see many of them!!! Nobody was able to explain why the all the senators had the day off... not even our charming guide, Frank!

Our guide, Frank ... très francais!

The French Parliament is made up of two chambers, the National Assembly and the Senate. Members of the two Houses are chosen by two different electoral systems. This ensures that all the diverse components of French society are represented as fairly as possible.

Examination of bills by both Houses of Parliament makes for better laws and the well proven experience of the Senators improves their content.

The Speaker of the Senate ensures the stability of France’s institutions as he is called upon to replace the President of the Republic in the event of his death or resignation.

But lets come back to the Palais de Luxembourg. Marie de Medici (wife of Henri IV of France ) bought the land on which the Palace now sits and started plans for the building in 1612. Up until the French Revolution it was a princely residence.

Declared a National Palace in 1791, the Luxembourg Palace became home to the Directoire, the House of Peers (1814-1848), and the Senate of the Third Republic (from 1879).

feeling the French vibes

the golden room

Yours truly ... reporting

I'd like to have a staircairs like this at home ....

impressive hallway ...

the one and only senator to be found ... having a photo session

good work guys

no senators, no spectators

unfortunately we were not allowed to enter this impressive library

waiting for Cinderella to enter through the door

in the meantime ... I'll have a rest

January 21, 2012

My new French number plates

“Bureaucracy is the art of making the possible impossible”
Javier Pascual Salcedo

There is something about changing one's number plates that make a move feel definite. After weeks or rather months of adapting, settling in and filing endless paper work for any document under the sun, giving up the number plate of your former "home" country always has an air of final, unconditional no-going-back-to-the-past about it.

Five years ago I trekked down to Bellinzona from Lugano to get my Swiss number plates. I remember being so incredibly proud of my Ticinese plates. Not only did it make me feel local but having grown up in Zurich, my belief was that a car with TI number plates was just plain cool!!!

I admit it was sad seeing the Spanish number plates go, nevertheless!

Two days ago, I was sitting at the "prefecture de police" of Paris which I had to walk to because the metro broke down. I did, however, manage to avoid stepping on a rat while coming put of the metro station.

Impressive police station!

It took all of 17 minutes to do the paperwork ... and I had had visions of me spending all day fighting French bureaucrats. I was beginning to wonder if the Swiss administration had some serious competition? Alas, you don't receive the number plates along with your "carte grise", you are, however, allocated a number.

You then need to find a garage or a cobbler who will print your allocated number on a pair of plates within 48 hours. Strange system if you ask me. I'm wondering at this point "where does the insurance fit in with procedures?"

Being Swiss at heart I decide to call my car concessionary who is scandalized by the fact I even considered ordering number plates on line (another option) and gives me an appointment for the next day.

Racing against the clock I decide on an insurance et voilà ... today I am the proud owner of a Parisian number plate. I can already hear the local Swiss drivers cursing at me when we spend our ski holidays back home!!!!!



January 17, 2012

Exploring Paris' history

How do a Swedish American, a Jewish American, a Japanese American and a Swiss American go about learning Paris' rich history? Well, we took ourselves off to the Musée Carnavalet in the Marais district.

We initially got sidetracked by a little cafe while waiting for the museum to open. Un petit déjeuner and a good girlie conversation later, we set off to explore the Museum of the History of Paris.

Can you believe that until the end of the 19th century, the City of Paris did not have a single museum? From 1797, the majority of national collections were displayed to the public in the Museum, the current Louvre, with the remainder assigned to the Museums of Fine Arts of large Provincial cities.

The Museum of the History of Paris is located at the heart of Le Marais, one of the few districts whose architectural heritage was spared by the major transformation projects of Haussmann. Even today it still offers plenty of evidence of its extremely rich past: town houses (sometimes with their decors), gardens, religious buildings, etc. For this reason, Le Marais has been a protected area since 1965.

The Hôtel Carnavalet is one of the rare examples of Renaissance architecture in Paris, alongside the Louvre’s square courtyard. Built from 1548 to 1560 for Jacques des Ligneris, president of the Parliament of Paris, it is one of the oldest hotels in Le Marais. In 1578 the hotel received its current name, stemming from a distortion of the name of its following owner, Madame de Kernevenoy of Brittany.

Behind the somewhat mysterious name of Musée Carnavalet lies hidden one of the capital’s most genuinely Parisian museums. The oldest of the municipal museums tells the story of Paris from a bygone era (a prehistoric dugout canoe dating from 4600 BC) to the present day, in all its immense variety.

Courtyard Statue

Shopkeepers, whose customers were often illiterate, attracted the attention of passing trade by shouting their wares, but also by using pictures and scale models.

Jean Babtise Deshayes
1729 - 1765
"Minerva presenting peace to the City of Paris"
And this was just a sketch that he presented to the City of Paris

There is even a pink room!

The chair where Victor Hugo had his inspiration as well as his last breath.

Galerie d'exposition 1929

Scale model of the Bastille

Declaration of citizens' rights

January 15, 2012

Wine and cheese tasting the French way

I was lucky to be invited to French wine and cheese tasting evening last Friday. At a friend's home overlooking the sparkling Eiffel Tour we gave our tastebuds a treat they should never forget.

I thought I'd let you in on to some secrets of wine tasting.

Learning how to taste wines is a straightforward adventure that will deepen your appreciation for both wines and winemakers. Look, smell, taste - starting with your basic senses and expanding from there you will learn how to taste wines like the pros in no time! Keep in mind that you can smell thousands of unique scents, but your taste perception is limited to salty, sweet, sour and bitter. It is the combination of smell and taste that allows you to discern flavor.

1.) Look: Check out the Color and Clarity.
Pour a glass of wine into a suitable wine glass. Then take a good look at the wine. Tilt the glass away from you and check out the color of the wine from the rim edges to the middle of the glass.

2.) Still Looking. Move on to the wine's opacity. Is the wine watery or dark, translucent or opaque, dull or brilliant, cloudy or clear? Can you see sediment? Tilt your glass a bit, give it a little swirl - look again, is there sediment, bits of cork or any other floaters? An older red wine will often have more orange tinges on the edges of color than younger red wines. Older white wines are darker, than younger white wines when comparing the same varietal at different ages.

3.) Smell:
Our sense of smell is critical in properly analyzing a glass of wine. To get a good impression of your wine's aroma, swirl your glass for a solid 10-12 seconds (this helps vaporize some of the wine's alcohol and release more of its natural aromas) and then take a quick whiff to gain a first impression.

4.) Still Smelling. Now stick your nose down into the glass and take a deep inhale through your nose. What are your second impressions? Do you smell oak, berry, flowers, vanilla or citrus? A wine's aroma is an excellent indicator of its quality and unique characteristics. Swirl the wine and let the aromas mix and mingle, and sniff again.

5.) Taste:
Finally, take a taste. Start with a small sip and let it roll around your mouth. There are three stages of taste: the Attack phase, the Evolution phase and the Finish.

6.) The Attack Phase, is the initial impression that the wine makes on your palate. The Attack is comprised of four pieces of the wine puzzle: alcohol content, tannin levels, acidity and residual sugar. These four puzzle pieces display initial sensations on the palate. Ideally these components will be well-balanced one piece will not be more prominent than the others.

7.) The Evolution Phase is next, also called the mid-palate or middle range phase, this is the wine’s actual taste on the palate. In this phase you are looking to discern the flavor profile of the wine. If it’s a red wine you may start noting fruit – berry, plum, prune or fig; perhaps some spice – pepper, clove, cinnamon, or maybe a woody flavor like oak, cedar, or a detectable smokiness. If you are in the Evolution Phase of a white wine you may taste apple, pear, tropical or citrus fruits, or the taste may be more floral in nature or consist of honey, butter, herbs or a bit of earthiness.

8.) The Finish is appropriately labeled as the final phase. The wine's finish is how long the flavor impression lasts after it is swallowed. This is where the wine culminates, where the aftertaste comes into play. Did it last several seconds? Was it light-bodied (like the weight of water), medium-bodied (similar in weight to milk) or full-bodied (like the consistency of cream)? Can you taste the remnant of the wine on the back of your mouth and throat? Do you want another sip or was the wine too bitter at the end? What was your last flavor impression – fruit, butter, oak? Does the taste persist or is it short-lived?

9.) After you have taken the time to taste your wine, you might record some of your impressions. Did you like the wine overall? Was it sweet, sour or bitter? How was the wine's acidity? Was it well balanced? Does it taste better with cheese, bread or a heavy meal? Will you buy it again? If so, jot the wine's name, producer and vintage year down for future reference.

But never forget, wine tasting is only fun if shared! So why not gather your buddies, find a specialized wine merchand or shop and organize an entertaining evening for your friends.

Source: about.com

January 11, 2012

A suprise in the metro

“Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind, large ones weaken it.”
Leonardo Da Vinci

On my way across the city this morning I had to stop at Metro Auber where much to my suprise IKEA had set up an appartment shared by five roommates. Until January 14th you can peek at IKEA's  initiative to showcase development solutions for small areas.

Just another curious occurence in my Parisian life....

January 9, 2012

Defying the Parisian dress code

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
Judy Garland

I did it! I finally did it! I defied all Parisian fashion codes and dropped off my daughter at school wearing my running gear rather than black miniskirt and high heeled boots!!!
What a great feeling. I am back to my old self. Don't get me wrong, I love to dress nicely. My friends will confirm that I am close to beating a new record when it comes to pairs of shoes, however, I do need that jog first thing in the morning to get started even if it is with red painted fingernails and lipstick!

If the Bois de Boulogne overflows with people during the weekend, it was a pleasure to jog along the two little lakes this morning. Just see for yourself.

January 7, 2012

Parisian excercise classes

Call me spoilt but it is too much to ask for a modern, airy, clean health club with a parking? Apparently in Paris it is. Space is a luxury that cannot be wasted in the city of lights. After having checked out various gyms in the city center and discovering that not only were they underground and minute but that the ventilation was minimal and the number of active members hefty, I decided just to continue jogging along les avenues de Paris until it got too cold.

Well, now that this moment has come, I have launched myself into joining an excercise class. The main reason I chose this particular one is that is located closest to home. Walking up to the address, I crossed two petite very tanned and VERY toned French ladies wearing very sexy purple Victoria's Secret yoga outfits. Just in case you're wondering at this point; I am on Victoria's Secret mailing list. ;)

I thought to myself: "If these ladies are heading to the same place I am, this must be the right spot."

Sure enough, the premises - tucked away at the end of a Parisian internal courtyard - were cosy, clean and well organized. It is not a gym just a ballet/excercise studio but I enjoyed the International atmosphere (a nice change from the Parisian pomp). I must admit, however, I was happy I had my nails polished bright red to make up for my rather unsexy running gear!

The class was a combination of ballet barre work, core conditioning, muscle strengthening, yoga, and orthopedic exercises. My entire body and mind was constantly working throughout class. Note that I am NOT a big lover of classes!

By the end of the 60 minute workout - and a good workout it was - I signed up for the month. I will never be able to compete with the French ladies but a day later I can feel every single muscle in my body, so the instructor must have done a good job!!!

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