December 22, 2014

Coco Chanel's world of perfumes

When the opportunity arose to join a perfume workshop, I jumped at it, of course!

It was to be all about Chanel. What inspired Gabrielle Chanel’s olfactory creations? Who are the noses behind the great CHANEL perfumes? What sparked the olfactory revolution that is CHANEL N° 5? Why is N° 5 so mysterious, so timeless, so iconic?

The workshop - led by a charming, petite lady with a dark-haired bob - gave us an in-depth portrait of Chanel as one of the greatest and most innovative perfume houses in history. We learnt about the unconventional cubist packaging and Gabrielle Chanel’s unique artistic vision back in the 1920s. We discovered an ingredient called Alderheist on this intimate olfactory journey and sampled both classic and exclusive Chanel fragrances. My personal favourite has to be No.19.

We analysed the most enigmatic and famous of all CHANEL creations, N° 5, a scent that could be described as an abstract painting of its time. Labelling a perfume after a number was innovative in an epoch when figurative and romantic names were more common.

Perfumers in those days were chemists as well as artist who were able to create exquisite composition from scratch without technological gadgets. Did you know that Coco Chanel chose the number 5 because it was the 5th vial that her perfumer Ernest Beaux proposed to her when seeking for this groundbreaking perfume?

Another fact that stuck to my mind, was that the Lilly of the Valley ingredient is - and always has been - a synthetic component because its scent cannot be extracted from the flower.

I had known about top notes and base notes but I never actually sat down and waited for a scent's true identity to unfold. Beware, you might not fall in love with the perfume immediately but adore it after wearing it for a while.

And don't forget what Coco Chanel used to say: "Dab it anywhere you want to be kissed"

December 18, 2014

Ice skating Parisian style

It was a simple post on facebook that caught my attention. Ice skating under the glass dome of the Grand Palais. THIS is an event that could not be missed. I drummed together some mums with the excuse to celebrate the end of school term with all our kids. Twenty-six people turned up and all were ready to party.

Dusk had fallen already when we reached the Grand Palais and the security guy at the entrance took one look at us and scanned our tickets one by one with a smile on his face. We entered the impressive building filled with awe taking in the blue lit metal structure.

We were whizzed through the skates handout with efficiency and more big smiles accompanied by some broken English. It was a Ferrero Rocher sponsored event and much to our delight we were offered a golden wrapped chocolate to top it off. Its innovative shape – round but irregular – and its unmistakable golden wrapping give it that elegance that has made it famous and also hint at the unique taste of this speciality: a creamy filling, a crunchy wafer and a delicious hazelnut centre. Adults and kids could not have been happier when we hit the spectacular ice rink.

The Grand Palais was hosting the largest temporary ice rink ever created in France and we grabbed the opportunity to skate in a truly magical venue, under the great glass roof of the Grand Palais.

It was to be an unforgettable experience. We came with the closest thing to family, our expat friends, to have fun and experience one of the most beautiful monuments in Paris in a new light in an exceptional context.

Merci Ferrero Rocher.

December 17, 2014

Chocolate Tour on Paris' right bank

I have been on two chocolate tours already but this one beat both of them. This enjoyable walk in the area of the elegant Palais Royal and rue St Honoré, took us to a selection of high quality ‘chocolatiers’ to taste some examples of superb Parisian chocolate. I finally got to understand every step of the making of chocolate beginning with the cocoa pod, a process the other two tours somehow had not managed to explain.

We discovered the history of chocolate, how it came to France, how people have enjoyed it through the ages here, and how Paris is now the capital of dark chocolate, supposedly! We tasted 90% dark chocolate that was so bitter we all pulled strange faces. It tasted awful. I never thought I'd say that about chocolate!

With the French flair for food of subtle flavours and beautiful presentation, Paris is now the home of some of the most inventive and creative master ‘chocolatiers’. Although I cannot warm up to the idea of salted butter caramel chocolate that the French seem so crazy about lately. I also wonder how all the maisons de chocolatier survive. There seems to be one on every corner in this city.

The tour mixed history and lively anecdotes with chocolate tasting and we learned how to select, appreciate and enjoy quality chocolate, that is, to let the brown delicacy melt between our tongue and palate savouring it rather than biting into it.

Some of my fellow explorers gave up tasting half way though the morning but, honestly, I could have gone on all day!

A macaron hamburger

Chocolate ganache pies and Chocolate brownies

Indulging in chocolate delicacies in the Jardins du Palais Royal

1936 is a good year!

Broading our tastebuds

Florentine, my favourite

Glitter chocolate

Real Cocoa beans

So much choice, but only one budget.

A real French hot chocolate!

In England, we call it toffee.

Scrumptious teacakes

Macarons, macarons and more macarons!

December 15, 2014

Baccarat - a French institution

Baccarat - that say it all, at least if you've lived in France for a while! I am talking about the manufacturer of fine crystal glassware located in Baccarat, France.

It all started when in 1734 King Louis XV of France gave permission to found a glassworks in the Lorraine region to Prince Bishop Cardinal Louis-Joseph de Laval-Montmorency (1710-1802). Production consisted of window panes, mirrors and stemware until 1816 when the first crystal oven went into operation. By that time over 3000 workers were employed at the site. Baccarat received its first royal commission in 1823.

This began a lengthy line of commissions for royalty and heads of state throughout the world. In 1855 Baccarat won its first gold medal at the Worlds Fair in Paris. Baccarat began marking its work with a registered mark in 1860. The mark was a label affixed to the bottom of the work. After the second World War Baccarat built a worldwide reputation for making quality stemware, chandeliers, barware, and perfume bottles.

To mark Baccarat’s 250th anniversary, the Petit Palais (built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900) hosted a remarkable selection of over 500 pieces, some of which I wouldn't mind having in my dining room, I admit.

The most impressive piece was a table featuring some commissioned pieces by royal families underscoring Baccarat’s triumphal contribution to living as one of the fine arts.

The grand finale were the dazzlingly series of majestic chandeliers hung in the Petit Palais’s Galerie d’Honneur, the most monumental of them gleaming with 250 lights. And I am wondering in my mind, where I would find the space in my apartment to hang that one up?

December 11, 2014

Stars for sale

Today, I felt like touching the stars. I took myself off to the 2nd arrondissement in search of shining stars. I went alone, I wanted to see them up close, touch them. I was looking for a gift for my husband.

I followed the call of a merchant of retro signs who was organising a garage sale in his Parisian loft.

Imagine a vintage walk amongst hundreds of stars and letters, each one with a history they could not tell me about. Each one having watched over a café, a bar, a restaurant, or some other small business enticing guests to taste their goods. All sizes - made of wood or metal - with or without lights. Small ones to hang on my Christmas tree, medium ones to align on my fireplace, and big ones to hang above my bed.

Stepping into vintage territory

Expat Girl would LOVE this

Letters and stars everywhere you turn

This might be a touch too patriotic

Do I need a pink S?

An e would do fine

Now that I found the letter, what font do I choose? Which colour? 

Gigantic E with mini-stars

More stars and letters

For 200.- Euros this piece of art is yours

All it took was a walk into the back courtyard... 

... and a climb up the stairs!

December 10, 2014

A trip to Jordan

L'épouse de Son Excellence M. L'Ambassadeur à l'honneur de vous inviter à une Réception donnée le 4 Décembre prochains à l'Ambassade de Jordanie.

To me, this sounded terribly exotic. I have travelled the Middle East many years ago but I never visited Jordan. I do recall that the Jordanians were always a pleasure to work with, in the days of my former life. This was as close as I'll ever get to Jordan, at least for the time being.

The Jordanian Embassy was hosting and welcoming the International community to this event supporting women in small businesses and raising funds for the Save The Children charity in Jordan.

I was greeted by the Ambassador's wife with a warm welcome and a big smile. She was wearing the most magnificent purple coloured traditional dress with a delicately embroidered flower motif. Many of the ladies present that morning were from other Embassies and I was guessing which country each of them could possibly originate from. I was introduced to some and smiled at others wondering if I should approach them by speaking English or French.

If ever I were to learn another language it would definitely be Arabic. I have had a faible for this language ever since college. I am told it is an extraordinarily romantic and poetic language, very rich in vocabulary. As-salamu alaykum and Esmee (My name is) Ingrid was as far as I got.

Here is a little photographic tour of the Jordanian handcrafts and delicacies I encountered.

One day, I will travel to Jordan!

Hussein bin Talal, King of Jordan from 1952 to 1999

Exquisite Jordanian handcraft 

Authentic Jordanian tea set for sale

Being served a delicious coffee flavoured
with local spices I started with the sweets...

... and devoured the savoury dishes after.

Jordanian cumin

My kind of Leitmotif

The Jordanian Embassy decked out for the occasion
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