November 26, 2014

La Creation à l'italienne

The Italian Embassy in Paris opened its doors for an exhibit entitled "La Création". What better way to define a collection of young Italian craftsmen showcasing their uniqueness of talent?

As I walked through the stately building which was originally called the Hotel de la Rochefoucault-Doudeauville and built in 1733, I admired the ballroom with mannequins on the stage modelling skirts made of foliage.

The cosiest place seemed to be the library called The Sicilian Theatre. It was brought over from the Butera Palace in Palermo by the Duke Lanza di Branciforte di Camastra for his bride Rose Ney d' Elchingen. 

The staircase was designed by Henry Parent in Louis XV style with marble in seven colors while the walls were adorned with Gobelins tapestries.

This contemporary accessory fits right in with the decor - it's called style

Delicate bijouterie sparkling against the sunset

Elegant collection of handcrafted coats

Sophisticated electrical bicycles made in Milano

It was a special day dedicated to the past, the present and the future 
of Italian style of life and savour-faire

One of the guests decided to park right across the road without buying a parking ticket. He's in for a surprise.

November 25, 2014

Pursuing my passion for writing

Always the one to expand my boundaries in order to learn more, I thought I'd give myself a push by signing up in a Paris Vignettes workshop. I have been blogging for over 4 years now but my writing has not really changed at least that is my impression. I decided to take it to the next step.

For the next six weeks I'll be sharing my craft with an author, travel writer, web-master and tour guide and eight other pupils wanting to learn about how to write a Parisian vignette.

You are wondering what IS a vignette? Well, that was the first lesson: a vignette is a piece of writing (non-fiction in the case of this workshop) that tells some form of story in less than 1000 words, that hones in on something “essential,” that somehow feels complete and whose ending adds to the piece rather than simply summarises it.

Having missed my first lesson due to travelling I started by reading the other participants' first vignettes we were asked to send to each other before the second class. Their stories were fun to read but the most intriguing part was knowing I would put a face to each writer by the next Monday. Each piece was different, each had its own style and its own attitude that clearly shone through. Some contained more humour and others a more dark side.

I arrived early to the workshop but when I walked though the door a redhead lady sitting at the table greeted me with a big smile. She too had missed the first class and was early! After the first hello I realised by her heavy accent she was from Scotland. She must be the artist then that has just finished her tour I thought. I had read her vignette and it spiked my interest since not only was she a real artist - a metier for which I have a great deal of respect and I did not find the courage to pursue myself - but also because my mother lives in Scotland.

Slowly the other pupils started pouring in and in my mind I paired each one to a vignette I had read. Once we each started reading our piece out loud I realised my guess had not been that far off.

I have yet to discover more about my fellow writers but so far let's just say we're neighbours on Monday afternoons.

November 22, 2014

A walk through Paris' Passages

Paris Walks was on my schedule - once again - this morning. A charming Belgian lady, with a bachelor's in political cartoon design and a PHD in American landscaping (the mind boggles), walked us across the 1ère and 2ème arrondissements to discover Paris' old-fashioned covered passages. Built in 18th and 19th century, these glass-roofed shopping galleries are the forerunners to our modern day malls. Goes to show that Paris was always way ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to shopping!

These architectural gems are fantastic spots to spend a rainy day. Today was simply cold but after three years of touring this city, I am now equipped with Uniqlo's high-tech, a cutting-edge fabric which takes body heat and stores it within air pockets deep within the fibres, to keep me warm during winter months. Trust me, it's not just marketing, it really works but that is a whole post in itself!

Back to the covered passages, each one has its own special character but they have one thing in common: they are all private roads, some open to pedestrians, some not, and are all run by private owners. Most are classified Historic Monuments housing shops, luxury boutiques, toyshops, stationaries, bookshops, restaurants and performance venues side by side.

Out of the over 20 covered passages left today, my two favourite are the Galerie Vivienne, one of the prettiest, with ochre paintwork and mythology-themed mosaics and the Passage des Panoramas, built in 1800, which takes the credit for being the first public area in Paris to be lit by gas in 1817. I love the signs hanging over all the food stalls and the little typical bistros tables lining up along the wooden framework of the passage.

It's just a shame that their latest addition, the former Stern engravings boutique turned into the capital’s most trendy Caffé Stern, designed partly by Philip Starck, hung up on me when I wanted to reserve a table for 10!?

Once upon a time... 

Passage Vero Dodat 

Passage Potier

THE vintage shop in town

Passage de Beaujolais with a happy tourist

Galerie Vivienne 

Time for a coffee

Enchanted passage

Passage des Panoramas


November 20, 2014

I love my sugar!

When a friend calls, you turn up. When she is asking you for advice, you give it freely and with her best interest in mind.

So, when a new Belgium friend of mine asked me if I'd like to play guinea pig for her nutritional workshop, of course, I was willing to give her a hand. Turns out the workshops was to be about sugar cravings. No better theme for my huge and insatiable sweet tooth.

Even though my friend's tagline was: "Are you ready to end your sugar cravings?" and my answer would definitely be no, I was still very curious to know where it all starts. Is it a habit, my brain or my body the source of my cravings?

I simply cannot live without sugar. I am the girl who takes two lumps of sugar in her tiny Italian espresso cup. And, no I am in no lack of energy! Still, I want to understand why I cannot finish my lunch without a piece of chocolate melting on my palate.

Well, I got my answers. I found out that three things can cause sugar cravings: nutrition, body imbalance and emotions. I learnt about GI index (although I just needed to google that again). "Glycaemic Index (GI) is a number associated with a particular type of food that indicates the food's effect on a person's blood glucose (also called blood sugar) level."

I knew that spikes in blood sugar level is bad but admittedly never bothered trying to reduce them. However, after being made aware about hidden sugars - have you any idea how much sugar is in milk for example? - we listed ten ways to reduce sugar cravings. I won't go into all ten of them, you need to sign up for the workshop to get that answer - but I will reveal that switching from olive oil to coconut oil helps improve your intake of healthy fats. Surprised? So was I!

My conclusions: homemade granola is unmatched by the supermarket stuff, even the so-called healthy version, Quinoa is something that can actually taste good and I am way above the FDA recommendation of 10 teaspoons of sugar per day.

The one thing we could not agree on, however, is if the Belgian or the Swiss chocolate was better! Thank you my funky, creative entrepreneur-nutritionist friend for teaching me some more good things in life!

November 17, 2014

A former life...

When you move to a new destination as a trailblazing spouse, your social circle tends to build up around the kids' school. All of a sudden you become mum of... Never mind that you used to have a career and were actually quite good at what you did.

You jumped on the bandwagon to follow your husband and when you stop to look around, you find yourself the other end of the world in a school ground and everything that was before no longer counts. It's the here and now! The word that reaches your ear more than ANY other one is... "Muuummmmyyyyyy".

It is a privilege to be able to spend lots of time with your kids and watch them grow up and undergo their own little experiences and "Aha" moments every time you move to a new country.

Your former life seems to shift further and further away from your memory and as you gradually get to know the other mothers a bit better you realise they feel the same way.

We all had a life before we were married and had kids. An independent, interesting, career-orientated, ambitious, hard-working life. I still like to think of ourselves as such. Just let me repeat that to myself again: independent, interesting, career-orientated, ambitious, hard-working women. The difference being we are either working on our husband's career or we have gotten to the stage in our expat life where we have decided it is time to build a second career.

I have had many a project in my mind, have brainstormed numerous ideas and scribbled down a multitude of charts, even written a few business plans and contacted one or two fiduciaries for professional guidance.

There was the objective to open a Kindergarten in Madrid where English speaking nursery schools were scarce,  the visualisation of an indoor toddlers' playground that Lugano was so dearly lacking, a concept for a children's party service organised by theme, something unheard of in the Ticino at the time, and - my latest project - the project of Expat coaching for foreigners in Paris.

Somehow, we seem to move before I get my enterprise off the ground and every country seems to instil a fresh idea or present a new market niche opportunity.

For the time being, I guess, I will just continue writing my blogs and remain the strong, wise and hard-working woman standing behind my successful husband.

November 12, 2014

Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley Hotel

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, my Godmother's family had a real treat in store for me.

Having discovered that the Hotel Peninsula serves Pink Afternoon Tea during the month of October, I waited for a special friend to come to town and we splurged, sitting comfortably on the hotel's terrace café on a sunny late autumn afternoon.

You are wondering what could possibly be better than a Pink Afternoon Tea in Paris? Well, I'll let you in on a secret: The Berkeley's Fashionista Prêt-à-Portea in London!

This high tea - served in the Caramel Room - is inspired by the themes and colours of the fashion world and the menu is transformed every six months to follow the changing fashion seasons. We all gasped and gushed when the three-tiered stand arrived with a fantastic selection of miniature sweet and savoury works of art.

The current Autumn/Winter collection sees designers such as Jimmy Choo, Valentino and Dolce&Gabbana grace the Berkeley’s tea stand as Prêt-à-Portea adds a creative twist to the classic elements of the traditional English afternoon tea with cakes and pastries resembling the latest catwalk designs for the style conscious. Apparently, The Berkeley's head pastry chef, Mourad Khiat, is now invited to fashion shows to generate ideas for his new collections.

How cool is that?

Paris move over, here comes London!

... and you even receive - I dare call it such -  a doggie bag! Any cakes left at the end are given to you in a bespoke handbag take-away box to take home ... after you've shopped until you drop just around the corner at Harvey Nichols and Harrods.

The cake stand delights are fully explained by the waiting staff 
who showed us the fashion catwalk inspiration for each tasty treat.

Cakes, biscuits, fancies and sandwiches were all replenished so we dug in.

Matthew Williamson sequin macaroon with Mont Blanc cream ganache 
and psychedelic swirl of black and white

 Gorgeous cakes, biscuits, and mousses

Dolce&Gabbana's whimsical night owl with blackcurrant bavarois and star anis panna cotta savouring the designers' Sicilian forest fantasy

For those who prefer the savoury options, the cake stand included savoury canapés 
and they were replenished too.

Prêt-à-Portea take-away handbag comes in fuchsia and neon green. 

November 11, 2014

Remembrance Sunday in London

A hop across the channel... that is all it takes. Nevertheless it took us three years to come to London. What better weekend to choose than Remembrance Sunday?

The city was in pre-festive season mode, yet you could feel the touch of sobriety and solidarity, especially since this year marks the centenary of WWI.

Big and small were wearing their poppies, even the cabs, cars and bikes were decorated with large plastic versions on their front bumper, wraths were laid down throughout town in places of remembrance and we came across many a ceremony during our exploration of the London sights.

We were able to watch the Remembrance service at Wellington Arch from our hotel, and upon venturing outside, we each bought a poppy and I explained the history and its symbolism to my kids who are, after all, part British.

Nothing, however, prepared us for the display of respect and emotions that we encountered at the Tower of London where we caught a glimpse of the dramatic display of poppies. The installation by Paul Cummins, entitled "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" has seen 8,000 volunteers place hundreds of thousands of ceramic poppies into the dry moat of the Tower of London.

Each poppy – 888'246 in total – represents a British or Colonial military fatality during the war, which saw around 17 million people lose their lives.

We were overwhelmed by the Field of Remembrance, over 350 plots for regimental and other associations laid out in the area between Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church, filled with First World War Centenary Remembrance Crosses where ex-Service men and women, as well as members of the public, could plant a cross in memory of their fallen comrades and loved ones.

The Remembrance Poppy does not attempt to glorify or romanticise conflict, but instead, at least once a year, obliges us to face and think about the consequences of war, past, present and future.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. 

John McCrae

November 6, 2014

The LVMH foundation - a place to play

It is the talk of the town: the Louis Vuitton Foundation commissioned by LVMH chief Bernard Arnault and designed by world renowned architect Franck Gehry who conceived a radiant tour de force wrapped in swirling glass sails.

Since I had missed the official opening end of October, I decided not to waste any more time and drummed my Flaneuses girlfriends together to explore the glass sailboat standing in the middle of the Bois de Bologne... or is it an iceberg? Depending which way you look at this colossal building, it was meant to represent either one or the other.

Paris has outdown itself again. Just when you thought you've seen it all, the city surprises you with something new and refeshing but without ever losing its historical or cultural reference.

For generations, the Jardin d’Acclimatation in Paris’s Bois de Boulogne park has captured imaginations with amusements both nostalgic and novel. Opened in 1860 by Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie, the Jardin, a zoological garden, has, at various points in its history, beckoned visitors with a house of mirrors, an enchanted river ride, a puppet theatre, games of every description, and, of course, a merry menagerie.

For this project Gehry found inspiration in soaring glass-and-steel structures of the 19th century, including the Jardin’s own Palmarium, a lavish showcase for exotic trees, plants, and birds that was built on the site in 1893 and demolished in 1934.

Five girlfriends were bound to start chattering and not pay enough attention to the works of art, but we did wonder around the eleven different galleries and admired the impressive chefs d'oeuvre, though they seemed few in numbers given the size of the museum.

In my opinion, this cultural institution expands beyond the scope of a typical art museum and the building is open to your own experimentation.

Personally, I enjoyed exploring the different external levels, ascending and deciding on various staircases, wondering where they would lead me to. After all, why do people come to the "Jardin" if not to play?

It is a vessel, a fish, a sailing boat, a cloud

Following the staircase to the next level

The sails are held up by a complex nest of steel columns and timber beams

Tour Montparnasse is playing hide&seek behind the Tour Eiffel

View onto La Défense

Dwindling depths

San Jordi would love this

Sporting a glittering LV logo at the front door

One of the massing models on show in the exhibition...

... before the glass sails were added

The original sketch where it all started

November 2, 2014

Jardin des Tuileries on a sunny afternoon

Paris has been blessed with an extraordinary mild autumn. Not only to my personal pleasure but also to the delight of the tourist hoards. Did you know that more than 32 million people visit the city of lights every year? There are days I cannot spot the Eiffel Tower across the Trocadero because the tourist buses are quadruple parked along the side walk!

Yesterday the thermometer hit 21ºC and the sun was shining: impossible not to go out for a stroll, despite the wave of sightseers on a Saturday afternoon. I decided to head towards the Jardin des Tuileries and this is what I saw:

Sculpture by Aristide Maillol

Place du Carrousel featuring La Pyramide du Louvre

Trying not to get lost...

Contemporary retail booth contrasts against the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

Ever listen to the song: "Sur les toits de Paris"

Professional pickpockets

The gardens welcome over 10 million visitors every year

Keeping the "pickpockets" and the "vous-cumpra" at bay

Niki de Saint Phalle is à la mode in Paris

Time for some R&R around the fountain

A happy couple 

Tinto de Verano rather than Vin Chaud

A good book and a green park chair is all you need

Bon weekend!

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