January 31, 2015

Help! How do I work my camera?

My pink Sony camera just wasn't cutting it anymore, therefore a belated birthday gift arrived in the form of a Nikon Coolpix. Although it is fairly sophisticated, it is still a compact, which means I can pop it in my handbag and carry it around with me wherever I go, a fundamental requirement for me and my blogging.

The challenge was figuring out all those numbers, buttons and menu options on my new camera. My goal was to move away from Automatic mode. With that in mind, I signed up for a photo course. Turns out the teacher is a young, energetic Spaniard who is very passionate about photography and eager to convey his interest to a bunch of Expat Mums who love taking photos in Paris.

We spent a great deal of time listening to Juan Manuel's explanations and he answered all our questions with immense patience. The first day we concentrated on depth of field, i.e. aperture, lens & distance. The second session was all about shutter speed and the third about how to work with lighting. Bit by bit I worked my way through the maze of numbers and buttons, started bracketing - which I learnt means the technique of taking several shots of the same subject using different camera settings - until I finally got the pictures right. By the fourth session we knew what we were talking about, or so we'd like to think and our charming teacher shared useful tips such as making sure to capture emotions when taking personal portraits (otherwise they are just plain boring), how to incorporate a graphic vision of elements in a composition or to capture frames (windows, doors, reflections) inside a picture.

His suggestions of changing a point of view (higher or lower) for different perspectives is one of my personal favourites which I tend to use a lot. Let's just say, to get that picture-perfect shot I am not quite ready to lie down on the cobblestones of Paris ... YET.

Before practice comes the theory...

... lots of it!

I won't bore you with all my bracketing but this was my motive

Testing shutter speed... it works!

Goast effect shot with Juan Manuel

Panning shot on the Pont de la Concorde

Playing with reflexions

Learning how to under and over expose

Warming up in yet another Parisian Café while taking in the theory.
Mil gracias Juan Manuel!

January 26, 2015

A Dutch fashion experience

We were all dressed in black and ready for the fashion show. This was going to be fun. Not only do we get to admire exquisite craftsmanship and enjoy the buzz of a Parisian fashion show, we get to go as a gang of girlfriends.

Our Dutch friend had invited us to the Atelier néerlandais which was established in 1957 and is one of the oldest foreign cultural centres in Paris as we later on learnt. It organises a wide range of cultural events, including exhibitions, concerts, screenings, seminars, lectures, debates and Dutch language classes. In addition, it plays a mediating role between French and Dutch cultural institutions and artists.

The designer Christian Lagerwaard is Dutch with German roots and had won the prestigious 'Prix Guy Laroche' during the "Concours de Couture" which was held for talented young designers in the Netherlands (1985) at the age of 20. His talent did not stay unnoticed. He was given an exceptional job opportunity by Emanuel Ungaro Paris in 1992, where he experienced the secrets of High Fashion design and craftsmanship. In the year 2000 Christian was invited by the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in France to present his collection in Paris.

The rest is history. As we sat admiring the tall, slinky models walking through the Hausmannien flat painted white for the occasion, we could tell the designer definitely has a preference of 3D effects and female silhouettes. His summer/spring collection was made of natural fabrics and exceptional craftsmanship that are always important keys. Admittedly, we were as intrigued by the clothes as we were by the models. A glass of champagne to top off the event and we all went home with a twinkle in our eyes.

January 22, 2015

An intriguing invitation

Just before Christmas we received a wonderful invitation from the Italian Ambassador to attend a performance by the Solisti Veneti, a small, world class Italian chamber orchestra with modern instruments. Not only did we enjoy an upbeat concert of the ensemble that has won numerous awards including a Grammy and a Grand Prix du Disque, we also got a glimpse of the magnificent Grand Amphithéâtre de la Sorbonne. True to the Sorbonne’s enduring reputation as a centre of studies and intellectual activities, the Grand Amphitheatre is a spectacular venue and a perfect setting to ring out the six-month Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Do you know which National government holds the incumbent presidency of the Council of the European Union?

Monsieur et Madame L'Ambassadeur d'Italie request our presence

Towering above the podium is Le Bois Sacré by Puvis de Chavannes, the most famous mounted canvas in the Sorbonne, evoking the living symbols of Literature, Science and the Arts gathered around the Sorbonne.

In six niches there are statues of Robert de Sorbon by Crauck, Descartes by Coutan, Lavoisier by Dalou, Rollin by Chaplain, Pascal by Barrias and Richelieu by Lanson.

In the dome there are five large monochrome medallions by Galland depicting Law, Medicine, Science, Arts and Theology, i.e. the five faculties which constituted the University of Paris in 1889.

Inaugurated on August 5, 1889, 
the Grand Amphitheatre has been listed as a historic building since 1975.

January 17, 2015

The secret of a La Parisse baguette

How could I resist a personal invitation behind the scene to discover how baguette is made? Without having to get up at the crack of dawn, I might add?

Off I went to the 14th arrondissement, to meet a very friendly baker proud of managing his bakery with quality. Turns out his grandparents were Swiss and he grew up in the Jura, we hit it off from the word go. Given it was January 7th, he was most intrigued to learn about the Swiss Three Kings Bread I had made the day before with Expat girl.

HIS speciality is called la Parisse, a special French baguette made with natural leaven. La Parisse has a flavour of yesteryear, it takes 24 hours to forment and the longer it ferments the better the flavour. Baking continues all day long in order to meet demand which is roughly 200 pieces of Parisse/day in his shop.

Monsieur Lavry explained that from the 1.20 Euro his clients pay for a Parisse, he owes a trademark fee of 0.07 cents for the flour, the secret recipe and for applying his own special signature called "scarring". Bakers who wish to sell La Parisse are paying for the method rather than just ingredients, apparently.

In comparison, the traditional French baguette can be scarred anyway you wish. It's price is around 95 cents and only needs 4 hours to ferment. I can assure you the taste is NOT the same!

Walking through the back courtyard, I stepped into a tiny kitchen and after a few introductions I climbed down into a small cavern to watch a demonstration by the master baker of how a perfect baguette is made. Smells of fresh baked bread filled the air and my enthusiastic baker friend demonstrated how to roll, lay out and scar La Parisse before shoving it in the oven by the dozens. Did you know that vapour is injected into oven to guarantee the breads golden colour and make it crusty?

I learnt that by French law only yeast, sourdough, salt, water and flour are the ingredients allowed for bread by the traditional bakers. By 1993 legislation, the flour of La Tradition, for example, cannot be treated. This has allowed the thousands of boulangeries to survive in this world of discount supermarkets.

Paris alone counts 3000 bakers of which 340 compete every year for the best croissant in town! Another surprising fact is that sadly 84% of Parisian bakeries don't produce their croissants from scratch. So beware, next time you buy your morning croissants, look out for regularity or rather irregularity in the products to tell if they are authentic.

Little heaps of dough packed away for 24 hours in order to ferment

Shaping La Parisse is serious business

What it takes to be a real boulanger: passion, discipline and the right ingredients

I even scaled my own Parisse, always according to the rules

Creative scaling with regular baguettes

Once this is baked you can just break the portions off

Into the 240°C oven for a few minutes

Et voilà: La Parisse

Looks and tastes delicious

Three main types of flour used to bake bread: wheat, rye, chestnut flour
Somewhere hidden away is the roasted barley flour

Monsieur Lavry in his element

January 16, 2015

La Galette des Rois - HOMEMADE!

January 6th is NOT a holiday in France like in most other countries we have lived in. My kids tried very hard the night before to negotiate their way out of school without success needless to say. No, we do not live in Lugano or Milano anymore and quite frankly if La Befana finds her way to our house it will be over night. Los Reyes Magos will not be arriving from Madrid since you received all your gifts on December 24th already.

We will, however, have a Three Kings Cake to celebrate the occasion. Now, I am a great lover of traditions and am the first to explore a local custom but I cannot for the life of me get myself to buy a Galette des Rois at the bakery. It is a question of principal rather than price. As my husband can vouch, I am much better at spending than earning money but I refuse to pay 25 Euros for a fluffy pastry tart filled with Frangipane whatever that might consist of (I am still trying to figure that one out).

Therefore I fell back on dear old Betty Bossi (Switzerland's equivalent of Julia Child) and dug out a Three Kings Cake recipe along with a golden paper crown that had somehow miraculously survived since our Lugano days and went to work with Expat Girl, much to her delight. I am no rebel but I needed to prove my point.

The result was flabbergasting I dare say. Honestly, our Swiss Galette des Rois looked better than the professional ones we used to buy in Switzerland... and it tasted better too! The recipe did state: to be devoured freshly out of the oven and so we did.

The flour cost 99 cents, the yeast 83 cents, the butter 98 cents, the milk was 83 cents, a bit of sugar and salt and we served a scrumptious brioche for eight people.

I am wondering if I might be on to a revolutionary business idea? How do you think Swiss Three Kings Cakes would fair in Paris?

Here is the link to the Three Kings Cake recipe: Expat with Kids

January 11, 2015

Marchons ensemble

It was a family decision; my husband and I decided to join the "Marche Républicaine" this afternoon.

Driving towards the Place de la République on the East-side of Paris, we started observing hundreds of people walking along the sidewalk as of the St. Lazare train station, 4km away from where the march was supposed to begin. As we drove along, the flow turned into thousands. By the time we got to Gare Du Nord with our little Italian Vespa we were asked by the police to park and carry on by foot. We were still 2,5km away from our starting point.

The further we walked down the Boulevard de Magenta the denser the crowd became. We were advancing extremely slowly and suprisingly silently. There was an ambiance of solidarity and human compassion mixed with a sense of dignity and resistance.

Neighbours were watching the procession from their balconies playing "All you need is love" on their stereos. Strangers were smiling at each other making conversation. We sang "La Marseillaise", the national anthem of France, and every once in a while we chanted "Charlie, Charlie, Charlie".

We watched the local news on our smartphones to witness the more than 40 world leaders who headed the somber procession - their arms linked - setting aside their differences for a manifestation that French President Francois Hollande said turned the city into "the capital of the world."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood near Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also marched.

Today's rally for unity against terrorism was the largest demonstration in France's history. Some commentators said the last street presence in the capital on this scale was at the Liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany in 1944. Paris police said the turnout was "without precedent" but too large to count. One organiser said he had indications it could be around 2 million people.

All ages, races and religions came together today to out-dare the acts of violence and terror that had besieged our city. France needed to come to terms with the state of shock that had prevailed over the past few days. After today's experience it seems, we can now move on with a new "prise de conscience".

We never even made it to the Place de la République, we left after one and a half hours - walking towards it - surrounded by thousands of pacifists, having shown our compassion and voiced our opinion for liberty and freedom of speech. Vive la liberté! Vive la France!

Marianne, leading the troops!

As it turns out, the troops were 2 million!

Each voicing their opinion.

"Je suis Musulman"

Of course, the French wisdom is part of the culture

 The next generation promises to do better

following what's going on up front on our neighbour's smartphone

Vive Charlie Hebdo

A manifest with an impact

Feeling sad

Feeling inspired

Joining in

 Observing from a prime location

Even the media have been very fast to react

A side street just as full as the main procession path
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