February 27, 2013

Sense and Sensibility in the Marais

What is the counterpart of a hysterical woman? Well, a hypochondriacal male, of course. Don't you just love that comparison? These are the bits of remarkable details the most amazing guides of the Paris Walks team come up with.

Today a young lady - who has completely lost her heart to the 18th century - took us around the Cognacq-Jay museum. It was her first tour around the museum but boy was she "switched on". Information was literally flowing out of her. Cerise seemed quite driven to transmit as many facts as humanly possible within the two hours of our programmed tour. I felt quite sorry for the non-English natives since our guide was going at 100 miles an hour. However, she did not miss a beat and combined just the right amount of facts with juicy insinuations to keep 18 ladies on their toes and listening attentively.

The delightful little Cognacq-Jay museum was created from a bequest by the founders of the once famous Samaritaine Department Store, Ernest Cognacq and his wife Louise Jay. They had started as modest shopkeepers but became extremely wealthy and they enjoyed collecting works from the period when France led the world in stylish grace and elegance.

The museum is housed in a lovely old Marais Mansion and the objects are set out in period rooms to evoke the life of the day. The wood panelling, paintings, sculptures, furniture and decorative objects were all of very high quality.

We admired fêtes galantes (a French term referring to some of the celebrated pursuits of the idle, rich aristocrats in the 18th century) and music lessons (romantic scenes depicting luxuriously costumed ladies and gentlemen flirting, picnicking and playing music at gallant country parties).

We learnt about "sumptuary laws". They attempted to regulate the balance of trade by limiting the market for expensive imported goods. They were also an easy way to identify social rank and privilege and often were used for social discrimination. Apparently the luxury trade (porcelain, furniture,silk, glass) within France was stimulated by Louis XIV during 18th century.

Did you know that Marie Antoinette's favourite painter was a woman named Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun?

It never occurred to me that a Secrétaire (writing desk) is where you keep your secrets.

We finished our tour in the most amazing attic elevated by poutres apparentes (exposed wooden beams) and a spectacular view onto the roofs of Paris.

I will now have to take time to watch "Sense and Sensibilty" again which I am certain, will take on a whole new sense after having followed Cerise on her tour of sensibility.

February 21, 2013

Int'l. Mother Language Day at school

Today is my kind of day. February 21st is International Mother Language Day. My official mother tongue is English although I would argue that Swiss German - albeit being a dialect - would make a close runner-up. So after many years of studying behind a school bench and some help of boyfriends during my university years I have summed up five language which I all enjoy speaking.

My kids are growing up trilingual and even Expat hubby who spoke only Italian when I first met him, has got his head around three additional languages.

My daughter's sole goal in life is to be able to speak more languages than Mummy. The rate she's going, she will have accomplished that feat by the time she's finished Secondary School.

In my time it was exotic to have an Italian boyfriend. Now, I tell my daughter, she'd need to date either a Chinese or a Russian, if she were to learn a language du jour.

Every year the kids' school celebrates and recognizes the importance of each child’s mother tongue. They also realize that other languages are significant to the children. Mother Tongue and Other Languages Day is an opportunity for each family to bring their language to the classroom.

With this in mind the Italian mammas (whom I joined since my kids' second mother tongue is Italian) volunteered to involve the classes in a typical Italian activity to learn about the language in a fun and entertaining way.

Well, Italians are known to talk expressively and whole-heartedly. Most likely you will come across an Italian with a mobile phone stuck to his ear. We therefore turned up with old-fashioned tin can telephones. Of course, the kids - all having been born after 2000 - cannot even imagine a world without mobile phones, let alone do they know how a tin can telephone works. They had a great deal of fun discovering the acoustic (non-electrical) speech-transmitting device. With a copy of a basic Italian phone conversation the kids turned into a bunch of little latinos chattering and giggling on their phones.

Much to my surprise and delight, I received lots of little thank you notes from the pupils the next day.
Grazie di cuore a tutti quanti!

February 20, 2013

A day in French Indochina

Having missed the Chinese New Year due a unexpected attack of gastrointeritis last weekend, I decided it was not too late to have a stroll through Paris' Chinatown in the 13th arrondissement. This Chinatown was born in the 1970s and 80s as a result of overseas Chinese displaced by the new governments that emerged after the post colonial era. The most famous of these migrants are the boat people, overseas Chinese refugees fleeing Vietnam. Apparently it is the largest Chinatown on continental Europe.

It did not look anything like San Francisco's Chinatown - that Parisian architecture cannot be mistaken - however, once inside the shops, it felt like deepest China.

Starting point: Metro Nationale

Bonne Année

I am totally lost when it comes to anything Oriental. I have never set foot in Asia. I therefore followed my ever-true Asian guide, our Flaneuse Press Officer, to show me around and explain the various tempting and threating products. From fresh produce (some gigantic looking avocados and "grapefuits") to deep frozen fish that looked like a piece of Parmeggiano. Intrigued and always willing to learn about new cultures I went from one store to the next feeling more and more at a loss. I ended up buying roasted sesamy seeds, a box of strawberries (imported from Spain!) and three bunches of pussy willows. Not that adventurous after all, huh?!?

China Store

Chinese Paris gazette

Funky architecture

Parisian fountain in red

Feeling rather hungry we scouted out a simple looking diner which was chock-a-block full and served Vietnamese Pho soups and Jasmin tea. Delicious. First time I tried Vietnamese cuisine. We were definately the attraction of the moment. As my Italian fashionista friend put it so nicely: "It has been a loooong time since they've seen 4 ladies from the 16th arrondissement in their hood."

Vietnamese Pho soup

 Oslo commercial center

Passage Bourgoin

A little pink house in the big city

Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laos satellite???

Hidden gardens

Stark contrasts

First spring blossoms

Chinese Christian mission in France

 Avenue d'Ivry, the Chinatown of Paris

February 18, 2013

Dances with wolves...

I could get used to this lifestyle. Rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. My friends at this point are thinking: "Yeah, right? What else is new? Come back down to earth, girl."

Ok, ok. I admit I get carried away at times but wouldn't you if you were to be introduced to THE bodyguard.

Being at the right place at the right time, yet again, hubby and I had been invited to a lovely lunch to meet the new Italian ambassador to France. His father-in-law was the most charming table companion and I enjoyed an animated conversation reaching from Italy's reunification in 1861 to the pope's resignation last week.

Some commotion made me look around to find THE bodyguard in person approaching our table. Photos were taken and smiles exchanged. Now I am not prone to fall under the spell of superstars - unless of course it were Robert Redford - but Kevin Costner produced quite a stir with the ladies at our table. After having taken pictures of my friends together with Mr.Costner I politely handed the cameras back and sat down again. At his point even my hubby insited I take a photo with Kevin Costner! If I must ...

We were introduced and I asked him: "How do you think I could manage to get you and my husband in a picture?" Mr Costner smiled and invited my gorgeous hubby to take a photo all together.

Believe me, I was not dancing with the wolves any longer, I was the cat that had gotten the cream!!!!

February 17, 2013

BFFs on tour with BPP - Better Photos Paris

Today is the Flaneuses' Creative Editor's birthday. Her passion? Photography and Paris. What better way to celebrate than to take her off on a tour with Better Paris Photos. I had been on one of their tours last year and loved our guide's personality, attitude, sense of humour and professionalism.

We set up a meeting point at Anvers metro station. We had a different guide this time. A bubbly character called Manon greeted us with a charming Canadian accent. She turned out to be a little lady with a big smile and an infinite source of information and tips on how to make the most out of your camera. I discovered that even my pink little pocket Sony can produce miracles given the right treatment.

Huddled next to the majestic steps leading to the Sacre Coeur trying to protect ourselves and our cameras from the rain, Manon showed us what we have in our hands. Her flowery, technical explantions were so explicit that even we - complete laymen - could understand them.

She sent us off to take some pictures of the nearby carrousel and then gave us lots of positive critisism. She told us to use our bodies and bend our knees.

After slowly making our way up to the Sacre Coeur snapping an infinity of shots we decided to take a break because the weather was just too cold. But our lesson continued with instructions of how to take a perfect indoor photo. We continued to take pictures of one another with lots of giggling going on, until after much trail and error, we managed to get a decent shot with the proper background, the right lighting and a dignified portrait.

Manon shared a passionate talk about photography and helped us open our eyes to discover new surroundings. Her motto: "Garder un esprit flexible dans nos pensées" (Maintain a flexible spirit while thinking). I really like that approach. It turns out to be a perfect description of our Expat life.

Mille mercis Manon for a wonderful photographic tour of our cameras and our minds. We all thoroughly enjoyed sharing your knowledge and professionalism and lots of laughs in between.

February 15, 2013

Paris can do better ....

February 14th....Valentine's Day!

Where would be the most romantic place in the world to celebrate your love? In Paris, of course! Couples all across the globe spent weeks, months sometimes even years organizing a trip to the city of love on this special day.

Yesterday, I felt sad for all those drenched tourist couples running around town on which must have been the worst day weather-wise since the beginning of this year!

Come on Paris, you can do better than rain ALL day long on Saint Valentin! It was a truely miserable day, but then again they say, love conquers all!

Paris was just being Paris!!! Paris c'est Paris.

February 12, 2013

Dancing with the chimps

One if the reasons I love my life in Paris is that you gain access to events you would not usually attend unless you live in a big metropole.

Two months ago we watched Placido Domingo receive a nomination as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. The next day, I actually was introduced to him personally since we happend to be having lunch at the table next to him. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

Tonight we had a chance to meet Dr Jane Goodall, a British primatologist and UN Messenger of Peace. She had been invited by the kids' school to stand question and answer about her life's work. Along with Diane Fossey (the gorilla lady), Jane Goodall (the chimpanzee lady) is also known as one of Leakey's angels. The archaeologist Louis Leakey sent them to study primates in their natural environments in the 60's when very little was known about these primates.

After having watched her biography in the version of a two-hour film called "Jane's journey", it was up to us to stretch her mind with our questions. I fear we did not live up to her (or ours for that matter) standards as an International institution since we filled most of the scheduled time with dancing and music recitals rather than taking advantage of her endless source of knowledge on studying chimps while living in Gombe Stream National Park of Tanzania.

Heading into her eighties she seemed full of energy and certainly transmitted her passion for her cause called "Roots and Shoots".

I feel as if we were too busy in making it a memorable evening by charging it with as many activities as possible rather than just listening to what she had to say. Students were so eager to "entertain" her with their performance art that when it finally came to its excruciating end, Ms Goodall said, "Right. Well, that was very weird." She invited us to challenge her with our questions and I can't say we did.

It seems a real pity to have missed such a unique opportunity. Next time maybe a little more preparation and organization could make an extraordinary visit turn into a distinguished event.

February 8, 2013

A secret Parisian garden

Where else would the Flaneuses' press officer have us meet but at the Museum de la Poste? Before we even entered the exhibition she had bought a booklet of collector's stamps. An aficionada of street art she was determined to catch a glimps of the (in)famous Invader's pieces of art and video on display in the 15th arrondissement.

Moving on swiftly we walked around the block to the Musée Bourdelle. What a surprise....

"... You hid, children at the foot of the dark laurel tree,
Concealed beneath its great cloak of shade,
When I passed by, yesterday, on my way to the city.
And I saw you, I saw your beauty,
Like wine for the eyes, I drank it in long draughts."
(Sappho of Lesbos, 7th and 8th century B.C.)

Antoine Bourdelle's yard hidden in the midst of high raising ugly housing blocks in the shadow of the huge Montparnasse tower felt like an enchanted secret garden filled with oversized bronze sculptures. We were in awe of his art and his home. We were to learn that M.Bourdelle was hired by Rodin as a "praticien" (sculptor's assistant) in 1893 and 17 years later founded a free sculpture school in Montparnasse with Rodin and the sculptor Desbois.

With our tummies rumbling we rushed off to our next RDV at l'Atelier des Chefs where in 60 minutes flat the chef teaches you how to cook a dish AND you get to eat it. On the menu today was "filet de volaille parfumé au pain d'épice cuit rapidement au four afin de conserver tout son moelleux, servi avec des pommes de terre et des échalotes confites". It tasted as good as it sounds ... trust me!

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