Monday, January 31, 2005

A day in the life

Lest you think my life is completely glamorous and filled with non-stop adventure, there are plenty of days like today. Shopping is virtually a daily requirement and of course there are many other errands. Today I finally decided to go to get a copy made of our cave/basement key as requested by the landlord. Given the size and age of the key, you don't just pop into any minit-key shop and wait for them to make it. We have been to probably twenty places and finally was directed to store that doubles as a metal work shop. Remembering that the store opens at 10:00am I resolved that today, after four months of this and that, I would get the stupid key made. How did I know it was open at 10:00am? I'd ALREADY been there once at 2:00pm but it was closed for lunch until 4:00pm. Now it's not exactly in the neighborhood but I had time, so I hiked down there. Don't you hate the feeling as you are walking down the street toward the store and it looks dark. Hmmm, is it because the sun is shining outside? No. Maybe they are late opening up? No. Hmmm ... lights really are off because the store. is. closed. on. Mondays. Ugh. Sometimes the craziness of being open 24 hours a day 7 days a week like in the US is appealing.

So I walked home. I'm told when I move back to the US, one of the things I'll miss most is walking everywhere. I don't remember walking much when I was growing up. We'd take the car pretty much everywhere we needed to go. In Paris, it's the opposite. I walk everywhere possible, only taking the car when necessary.

Having said this, I must admit, I do miss the car for grocery shopping -- which was next on my list of tasks. People ask me why my daughter still uses her stroller. Here is the answer:

I finished up and had about five minutes at home before I had to pick up the kids from school. So what did I do in those five minutes? I called my husband and told him it was his problem to get the cave key made.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:12 PM



Sunday, January 30, 2005

Winged Victory

Last night we went to a co-workers cocktail party. Apparently, these cocktail parties are semi-formal events in France. Everyone at the party was dressed up except for an American that didn't realize how formal the evening would be. Even I took out a dress and heels and believe me, that says something (my husband was warned about the dress code ahead of time). The American was told by his French wife to take off his tennis shoes before he left the house but that was his only concession. I expect that his wife always dresses her best and he always dresses casually, so his wife's request was not out of the ordinary and didn't really give him a head's up.

Once he arrived, I think he realized the error of his ways. He said "he had no idea" about the dress code. It is a difficult thing. His French wife explained that it is just understood in the French culture... when to dress up, how formally to dress... but for those of us not in the know or without a co-worker willing to explain "dress up or you'll feel out of place," it's just another example of not fitting in.

People started leaving the cocktail party around 10pm. I said to my husband that there wasn't too much food at the party. He told me that everyone was going out to eat; they were leaving for their 10pm dinner reservations. Probably while they were eating desserts I was in my warm bed.

While at the Louvre the other day I took a picture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace and wanted to share.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
1:31 PM



Saturday, January 29, 2005

Hopelessly Committed to ... Pancakes

We are deeply committed to Saturday morning blueberry (from Picard!)pancake breakfasts doused in liberal quantities log cabin syrup. It is a deeply satisfying event for both profound and pedestrian reasons -- it is a little emotional and gastronomic link to the US but it is also a signal that there will be no school today.

Unless you have ties to the US government and therefore access to the secret stores in the embassies or the military base PXes, to satisfy your need for American products, there are only a few stores in Paris that sell real honest to goodness American items like Jif, cranberry sauce and normal, plain Cheerios. The two best known which advertise all over the English language publications are Thanksgiving and the Real McCoy. They are, in two words, a RIP-OFF. Really, a tiny box of Bisquick that yields about 12 pancakes (or about how much my husband eats in a single sitting) costs about 3 times the price of a normal size box in the States.

Instead of paying the prices charged by the American specialty stores we just import it in our checked bags. The last day of our US trips are always largely taken up with packing. We commandeer the entire living room at my mother-in-law's house or a bedroom at my sister's house -- our two points of return to France -- spreading around all the goodies that we have purchased (now 30% cheaper with the rise of the euro) or been given in gifts.

Armed with a bathroom scale, we have the packing down to a science. We basically know how many industrial sized boxes of Bisquick from Costco (tip: check the expiration date) how many bottles of syrup, how many jars of Smucker's natural peanut butter, how many cheap paper plates, how many boxes of Chex cereals, and ... well you get the idea... that we can stuff in our suitcases.

We know how to wrap the glass, how many loaves of cinnamon swirl bread will fit in our little freezer, how to use underwear strategically as padding, what bags should get the heaviest pieces (the smaller bags) and how to fill every ounce of space in the bags (it all gets used and if it doesn't that means a quick run to the grocery store).

The result is that our friends are always amazed when they open our pantry to literally see America stuffed in there. The French are just now learning how to buy in bulk but nos amis francais are still thrown into fits of laughter looking at our closet. (Side story -- my French brother-in-law laughed for years about our drawer full of new, unopened toothbrushes. He now has a drawer of them himself.)

We travel back and forth between the US a couple times a year and my husband typically is there on business once or twice as well. So -- and bear with me -- with approximately 2 family trips times four family members and an extra trip for my husband and two bags for each of us (three bags for my husband because of frequent flyer status) at 70 pounds a piece plus one carry-on bag per person weighing 20 pounds, we have the ability to transport up to 1,820 pounds or nearly one ton of material from the United States to France every year. Assuming that our clothes and other personal effects that we bring from France and return with us take up 1/3 of the space and weight, that means that we could in theory sneak past the customs officers import about 1,200 pounds of goods from the United States. This of course doesn't count the items brought over by friends and family during the year.

The joke used to be that you had to show us a box Bisquik or a few jars of peanut butter through the peephole before entering the apartment. The reality is that we regularly travel with about 5 bags between us and while we are good -- real good --not all of the bags reach 70 pounds and the carry on bags are generally filled with toys, changes of clothes and other things to keep kids occupied on long journeys. So that means that we still have 800 pounds of luggage and 500 pounds or so of new American things. (Another side story, much to my France-based sister's dismay all this potential has not translated into a mule train of goods for her. Quite the contrary, we used to regularly bring a few bags for her when we were just visitors.)

I had a long laugh at Pat's comment to La Coquette's lament about schleppling 70 pounds up five flights of stairs. Expats are the only people in the world who actually want their bags to be (temporarily) lost by the airlines. The slight inconvenience of filling out forms and that rejection, that little emotional slap in the face you feel when the luggage carousel finally stops moving and your baggage has not appeared is all outweighed by that feeling of elation knowing that the airline will have to send the luggage to you and someone else will have to bring it up the steps.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
4:17 PM



Friday, January 28, 2005

Coded DaVinci

Guess where I was today. Yep. The Louvre.

We had our Friday walking tour on the DaVinci Code (DVC) at the Louvre. Although it took the Louvre a while to warm to the idea, the powers that be now realize DVC is fantastic publicity. Apparently, last year 6.5 million people visited the Louvre -- the largest number ever. A large part of those visitors came because they had read the DVC, or at least that is what the Louvre has surmised. Of course, you know they will begin filming for DVC in May.

Since they know DVC is a moneymaker, the Louvre has used a tour company, Paris Avec Vous, for these tours when VIPs are in town and want to view all the hot spots in Dan Brown's novel. This tour company is the same one we use for our Friday walking tours... so we got our very own DVC tour today.

First let me tell you what you may already know... that Audrey Tatou is going to be the female lead in the DVC movie. Also, the Louvre will use Ms Tatou as their cover girl for a big advertising blitz they plan in a couple of months. So you'll be seeing a lot more of this French actress in the months to come.

I enjoyed the DVC and was happy to take the tour today. I think there is something to be said about 'historical fiction.' You may not learn all the accurate facts about an issue, but I think it makes you want to learn more about the subject. Over here in Paris, one of the recommendations I always make at the Bloom conference is the Josephine Bonaparte trilogy (although Amazon lists four books?). I read them 4 years ago and they got me very interested in French History, which has been my reading focus since I've lived here. Today a friend was telling me he is reading the trilogy and wants to read a book about Napoleon next. See what I mean?

Anyway, the tour allowed us to look at many of the works of DaVinci (5 of 15 of his paintings are in the Louvre), the much talked about meridian medallions (15 in and around the Louvre out of 135 in Paris), Caravaggio paintings (the one that the curator pulls down from the wall before he dies) and lots of pyramids -- inverted and otherwise.

If you liked the book and plan to go to the Louvre, this tour is a great way to spend 2 hours. After our tour we did some shopping... after all the sales are on for at least another week. This is the time for some really good deals and the Louvre Carousel has some great stores: Bodum, Nature et Decouvertes, Swatch, Résonances, Bernardaud, Loisirs et Création (an arts and crafts store) and Occitane.

My view on the way to catch the bus home...taken at Place de la Concorde.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:10 PM




Last night on our way home from a dinner in the Latin Quarter we took the bus, my favorite way to travel in Paris. At one point the bus is making a 45 degree left turn. I'm sitting in the back next to the window and say to my husband "boy it looks like we are going to hit that car." The car, a Mercedes, was parked on the corner illegally. A moment later the bus stops -- he doesn't want to hit the Mercedes.

The bus driver gets out of the bus and takes a look at the situation. There is the Mercedes on back left side. There is a big cement block on front right side. The bus in stuck. In addition, we are also blocking a side road.

Men from the first three cars on the side road, the bus driver and a passerby try to push the illegally parked car. It doesn't move; the emergency brake must be on. So they all work together and lift the car and move it to closer to the sidewalk.

No honking horns during this 10 minute fiasco. No swearing. No complaints whatsoever. Just a normal day in the city. After some handshaking, the bus driver gets into the bus and drives off.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
3:50 PM



Thursday, January 27, 2005

Fur Flying

It was cold. Really cold today. There were even some flurries as we walked home this evening (two men on a corner asked my kids if they were going to make a snowman).

What happens when it's really cold in Paris? FUR. I could not believe how much fur I saw on the streets. I think there was a general agreement with all the rich women... they called each other up and said today is the day to show off our coats! Here are some of the pictures I took. It's all fur.

Is there a PETA chapter in France?

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:13 PM



Tea Time

I had a nice start to my day. I ended up meeting another blogger, Kate, for a tea this morning in the Galerie Vivienne covered passage way. It is a beautiful covered passage way and a great way to spend a cold morning. We had a tea at the A Priori Thé salon. I had their melange maison, an orange and honey tea. We ordered some scones with our tea and they were delicious. Personally, I really, really love a good scone. It was a really enjoyable breakfast.

After the breakfast we walked to the Jouffroy covered passageway nearby -- the only way to shop on a nearly freezing cold day. There are many charming, quaint shops -- lots of fun shopping -- including books stores, art stores, and French figurine shops. If you are looking for something other than a steel eiffel tower (and I do love them...) to bring home, this is a good place to look for out of the ordinary gifts.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:59 PM



Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Valentine Package

I got a care package today from my belle-mere.. an envelope of stuff for Valentine's Day --a table cloth, cards, and puzzles. Although the French are amorous, they do not believe in Valentine's Day for children. There is really nothing to buy in the stores for the kids. Nothing. I've looked and looked. About the closest you get are these cookies.

My second year here, I pushed for a Valentine's Day party in my son's English class. I called every mother to ask her to bring something in for the party and to have their child prepare Valentine's Day cards. One of the French mothers informed me that it is not a day celebrated by children, just adults. I have found that to be the general attitude here.

Valentine's Day passes in school here like any other day. There are no Valentine's Day cards to send to your 'sweetheart' in class. There are no boxes of sweet tart candies saying 'You're cute!' to give to classmates. There are no lace heart doilies to use when making a card for your mother. I know. I've looked.

My children have lived here for nearly 5 years. They have no idea what happens on Valentine's Day in the US (I assume giving cards to everyone in class is still done?). But I miss all those things for them. If you're in the 16th, my apartment is the one with hearts on the windows (thanks belle-mere..).

-- said Auntie M in Paris
8:24 PM



Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Chauffeur

Sometimes I think about how different my experience of being an expat in France would be if.... I lived outside of the 16th, I lived in a suburb of Paris, I live in the countryside, if I wasn't an American (there is a bit of a fascination with us, as I'm sure the French find when the live in the US), and perhaps most of all if I wasn't a mother. But I am an American expat mother in the 16th, and it never ceases to amaze me what doors it opens.

Today when I picked my daughter up for lunch a mother of a classmate asked if she wanted to have lunch at their house. My daughter was very shy but eventually whispered 'yes' to my surprise -- on the condition that we walk home to get candy to bring to the girl's home.

My daughter has known this girl for three years. They were in half-day class together two years ago, were not in class together last year, but are again together this year.

Quick side story.. two years ago my daughter was invited to this girl's house for a birthday party. It was on a Spring Wednesday afternoon, so she was dropped off at the party after being at the Jardin D'Acclimatation for a couple of hours. She looked warm and winded. She was dressed in typical American jean cut off shorts and a cheerleader type shirt. She was cute enough for me (although I could have brought a brush for her hair). Boy did I receive a shock. The maid answers the door and there were only 8 kids all dressed in these beautiful princess or pirate costumes. My daughter didn't care, I'm sure. Later a French friend told me that people who live on that street are generally rich and that I should expect the parties to be formal (can you really say that about a party for three year olds??).

Anyway, when we arrive home today to choose the candy, my daughter informs me of the other condition. She will go for lunch at her friend's home and will stay without me, but I must pick her up to return her to school. I consider this a step toward her independence and agree to her condition. I drop her off for lunch and the mother says she'll bring the girls back to school. I tell her that my daughter has asked me to bring her back. The mother says, well.... we will be taking my chauffeured car back to the school. We will take you too.

I think I've taken a chauffeured car three times in my life.. twice for funerals and once for my wedding. When I return for my daughter an hour later, we all get into the car and get driven to the school ... approximately .3 miles away... less than a 5 minute walk. The fur-coated mother says to me, I know it seems strange to take the car, but I have to go somewhere else afterward (I notice the chauffeur came to pick up her daughter alone this afternoon.. it was cold out...).

Once at the school I open the door to get out of the car and notice that the chauffeur's hair is almost standing on end. He jumps out of the car to hold the door open for me (what were you thinking?? his eyes are saying). The mother and I bring our girls into the school. I tell her I need to talk to my son (who always refuses to have lunch with us... "what, and leave my friends??") as an excuse. I was worried they might offer to drive me home. Once was enough.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:20 PM



Monday, January 24, 2005

Van Gogh

On the way back from Amiens we noticed a sign for Auvers sur Oise. Since we only stayed in Amiens for a little while, we had some time before we needed to get back home.

I've been wanting to take a trip to Auvers for a while. It is the town where Vincent Van Gogh lived his last three months after he was released from the Saint-Rémy asylum in 1890. Van Gogh painted many great works during those three months until he committed suicide in July. He is buried in the public cemetery in Auvers.

Auvers is a charming little town with a quaint church, a park and a classic Chateau with well manicured grounds where the children had fun running around. You can also visit the Ravoux Inn, the house where Vincent and his brother Theo lived.

As far as I could tell, Van Gogh created nearly 80 paintings in those three months in Auvers. Around town there are bulletin boards with replications of each masterpiece next to the place he painted. Amazing. We came upon the "The Church at Auvers" before we realized it was that church -- the one from the painting we've seen so many times in Musee D'Orsay!

Can anyone tell me the name of those trees in the foreground? I will miss them when I return to the US! They are beautiful in their own way.

And.. Auvers is only 30 minutes outside of Paris -- an easy day trip.

Those are plastic sunflowers someone placed on Vincent's grave.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
3:03 PM




The absolute best part of being apartment dwellers is the fact that we have no household chores on the weekend. When we owned a house we rarely left for a weekend trip. Now it's easy to wake up on Sunday morning and say let's take a trip!

So yesterday we decided to take a 90 minute trip north to Amiens. We've taken many weekend trips over the last four years, but we hadn't driven to Amiens. In 1981 the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Amiens was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is the most amazing and breathtaking Gothic Cathedral. It is an extremely tall and large building, which means it's pretty much impossible to take a full picture of the Cathedral unless you are very far away.

The kids enjoyed the visit to Amiens because there were a number of interesting things to look at like a statute of Joan of Arc and lots of beautiful stained glass. However, the most interesting aspect for the kids was the labyrinth in the center of the Cathedral. The path arrangement is octagonal and you follow the black line. Here are my kids with others walking the labyrinth.

It was freezing cold, so we didn't walk around the town too much, but it was worth the trip just to visit the Cathedral. Because of it's size, it was difficult to take a photo of even the facade of the building, so here is a snap shot of one interesting section. It looks very similar to Chartres Cathedral of Notre Dame. In fact, when Chartres was finished, work was started on Amiens.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:02 AM



Sunday, January 23, 2005


Salesman: I'm sorry Madame, but we don't have that here.
Me: Where could I find it?
Salesman: You could find it over at fZxhfdkc, it is nearby.
Me: Excuse me I didn't understand. Where?
Salesman: It is down the street and turn left at the red light.
Me: No what is the name of the store?
Salesman: Fnoos?
Me: FNAC? (a logical guess -- Jerome called Best Buy, the FNAC of the United States.)
Salesman: Non, Fuhn-OOSsss
Me: Fun Oos? I'm sorry, I didn't understand again.

We recently renewed our cell phone contract and as a result got a brand spanking new phone. Nice and small with a number of bells and whistles I'll never use ... except a camera. The phone however did not come with the pc adapter and software, so I decided to go to the little bouygues telecom boutique and buy it. But alas, they did not have it. This is where the conversation above started -- and it was in French I might add *patting herself on the back.*

Salesman: (a little annoyed) But Madame, it is an English word.
Me: ?!?!?
Salesman: (with gestures) Fon OOsss (pause) I will write it down.
(Scribble scribble)
Salesman: Ah Oui, Phone 'Ouse

As I said before, little by very little I'm becoming more comfortable with the language and even have my little victories. Things that paralyzed me before don't stop me from jumping in and giving it a go. I have my playground French, I have my restaurant French, I have my call the French mother up and RSVP for the children's party French. I can generally understand what is being said to me even if responding appropriately and correctly is sometimes difficult.

However there have been a number of times when the thing that stumped me was an English word. Once some mothers were talking about the "cuh-bo-ees." "You know, they ride horses and have big hats -- its an American word." That would be COW-boys. Sometimes even with the correct pronunciation merely throwing in the odd English word plays havoc. Once someone threw the word 'management' into a sentence and that was enough to put me three sentences behind in the conversation.

Anyway, I managed to find the software and cable. Not at F-noos, but at FNAC. Little good it did me, the pictures aren't worth a thing.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:10 AM




Today marks 15 years since my mother passed away. I was really quite obsessed with death when I was a child and would constantly ask my mother if she was going to be around for various life events. She'd always answer yes, as I do to my son when he now asks me.

My mother found out she had a very advanced case of gall bladder cancer in the summer of 1989. I remember thinking how strange that she'd been in the hospital for a few days and she didn't get any better (don't you always get better after being in the hospital?). The cancer was too far along and there was nothing to do. Over the next few weeks we took various family road trips to the best cancer hospitals in the area to see if anything could be done. One especially long trip was to University of Pittsburgh. I believe it took 11 hours to drive across the state of PA from Long Island, NY. At Pittsburgh, the doctors told us she had about 5 months left and it was almost to the day that she died.

When she realized how short a time she had left she told me that she wouldn't be around for my wedding after all (and by the way the guy that I was dating was boring and wouldn't make me happy...we broke up shortly thereafter). She wouldn't be there for my graduation from graduate school, my wedding, the birth of my children or any other milestone I've had over the last 15 years.

Of course, my mother was around for many other important parts of my life and I have very fond memories of my time with her. I know she would have loved to come to Paris and play with her grand children. That would have made her very happy.

So, I decided that I would put a picture of her on my blog. I'm ashamed to say, that only two small pictures are in my possession. The rest are in storage somewhere in Virginia. Since I don't have a scanner I took a picture of a picture. You get the idea.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:00 AM


Saturday, January 22, 2005


There's a little non-descript boutique that I pass often that has some role in haute couture scene in Paris. My mother in law was so intigued she walked in a few years ago and I beleive she said that specialize in beading. I don't think much of it on a daily basis, but I noticed the people hard at work last Sunday night. They were working on this beautiful halter with what looked like rose petals on the front. I wanted to take a picture of the beautiful piece through the window but I was afraid they'd run after me and yell that I was taking pictures of their private, intellectual property. I'm a chicken, but I did get reprimanded last week when I took a picture of the Gucci folks when I was shopping at Galeries Lafayette. I took a picture of the Gucci line... the line which people wait on to be able to have the privilege of shopping at Gucci with only a few people at a time. When I took the picture the securrity guard came after me and scared me to death because I had already turned to walk somewhere else.
Anyway, when I saw the folks hand stitching pieces of fabric at 7:30pm on a Sunday night I figured that the Paris Fashion shows must be coming to town soon. As far as I can tell, they'll be here on January 24 (I guess that's when we'll have the week of celebrity sightings too).

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:25 PM



Friday, January 21, 2005

The Mairie

After school I usually take my kids to the local playground. The park closes around 5:30pm every night, meaning a city guard comes by, blows his whistle and tells us to leave. So I usually walk home around the same time every night. Recently, I've noticed just how beautiful the Mairie/Town Hall looks as I walk by. The soft lighting on the ubiquitous yellow/orange/cream stone is mesmerizing, at least for me. I hope you get a sense of how serene and majestic it looks.

Also, in the news today.... the movie of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code begins shooting in the Louvre this May... right in the heat of tourist season.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:21 PM



Stores Glorious Stores

In this season of store sales even those of us who say we will not go shopping are tempted by that siren call of a good deal. The following is a little snippet of shopping in Paris. It is does not include all information about Paris shopping, but I thought it might be helpful for those of you thinking about coming to town.

There are plenty of places to go shopping in Paris. There are the major department stores: BHV, Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, La Samaritaine, and Le Bon Marche. If you are looking for (or admiring) haute couture outfits, then head towards 'the golden triangle' which extends from avenue Montaigne and George V to Rue Royal, rue du Faubourg St. Honore. In this area, you can find the world famous fashion designers of Cardin, Yves St. Laurent, Guy Laroche, Nina Ricci, Givenchy, Christian Dior, Louis Féraud, Hermes and Chanel, among others.

Around the area of St. Germain des Pres you can find wonderful small stores while getting exercise by walking down the major and beautiful boulevard that stretches over 3 arrondissements (the 6th arrondissement near Odeon is best). There are also charming little stores in the Marias district in the 4th arrondissement.

Finally, another major area for shopping is my neighborhood, the 16th arrondissement. There are two areas: ave Victor Hugo near the Etoile and rue de Passy. Although I've pretty much resisted (except for that shirt)shopping I finally had an hour or so free yesterday to check out my neighborhood stores so I walked the length of rue de Passy. I didn't find anything, but I did try some stuff on. Here is a picture of some of the stores you'll find on rue de Passy. In this picture, you can see Alain Manoukian, Caroll, Kookai, Regis Chocolate(delicious stuff!), Guerlain, Lancel, and Christofle. Not bad for a short block, huh? The other benefit is that the crowds are not as bad as the big department stores.

Also, if you ever need help shopping, a friend owns a business that could help. She'll take you shopping, like a tour guide to find the best places for your budget.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:47 AM



Thursday, January 20, 2005

Musee Carnavalet

I was looking forward to my walking tour today because we were going to Musee Carnavalet. It is one of my favorite museums. Originally, the museum was a Renaissance mansion, at one time owned by the Marquise de Sevigne. The Marquise was friendly with many people in the royal court of Louis XIV. She also wrote many letters, mostly to her daughter who lived in the south of France. These letters describe, in a personal account, major activities that went on in the royal court as well as day to day life. The eloquent letters have been complied in a book, which make interesting, but difficult reading.

Carnavalet is the museum of Paris history, housing a large collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. There is also a major collection devoted to the France's revolutionary period and our tour focused on the revolutionary rooms. Interesting tidbit from our tour guide Claude: "Bastille day" is a misnomer. The 14th of July does not celebrate the storming of the Bastille, but "Federation day" which occurred one year later in 1790 on the same day. This was a celebration that was sanctioned by the then still King Louis XVI as they were trying to establish a constitutional monarchy like Britain. Having just recently read a biography of Marie Antoinette, Carnavalet museum is a must see since you get to witness that period between the Bastille and the guillotine when the Revolution got out of control. There is a room devoted to evidence of Marie Antoinette's family's last years of life as prisoners. There is a lesson book of her son, the shaving bowl of her husband, Louis XVI, games that her children played with, and final portraits (even in jail she had a portrait painted by Alexander Kucharski). It's all very sad.

Anyone interested in Parisian (and French) history will be enthralled with this museum. I promise. Best of all, it's free entry like the other museums run by the city of Paris.)

After lunch, I coaxed some friends to join me for lunch at one of the local restaurants for a falafel lunch. Absolutely the best in town.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:49 PM



Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Little Things

I let a lot of little things bother me today. The small stuff added up and I wasn't in the best of moods and that tainted the way I looked at things.

For instance, it was freezing out today at the Jardin and my son, as usual, wasn't wearing his coat (he was running around). Watching my son, the mother of his friend said that since I'd given her son a wool sweater (part of the school uniform that my son refused to wear because wool is itchy) last year she would like to buy my son a jacket with a hood on it like the one her son was wearing today. She was just being nice, I'm sure, but I couldn't help feeling defensive because the French mothers don't understand why my children will not wear coats unless it is below freezing out.

Another little thing. My daughter has a friend at school that I wanted to invite to the Jardin today because my son always has his friend to golf with but she is stuck with just me. But I stopped myself because we have invited this child out to the Jardin a couple of times and over to our house many times and it hasn't been reciprocated. Is it the end of the world? Of course not, but it just bothered me.

At school today, the mothers were talking about a birthday party this afternoon with a classmate of my daughter. The French mothers were convinced everyone in class was invited. One said that her child's invitation was misplaced and she didn't get it until yesterday. They said I should check with the teacher (who handed them out). I told the French mother to ask the teacher if she wanted. She did. The teacher pops out of the classroom and says to me and all the other mothers near me "No, there wasn't an invitation for your daughter to the party! (in French, bien sur) Mortification. Why, why, why was I goaded into that?

An English speaking nanny of a classmate of my daughter approached today (she's never spoken to me before) in front of the kids and said "I'm free in July. Do you need me to work for you in July?" I felt like saying, I don't even know if I'll be here in July. I just said that I'd talk to my husband (which is always a wonderful fall back and taken very seriously in this country).

Let me say... I know I'm lucky. I know I have two beautiful children and a patient, loving husband. I know I live in an amazing city. I really do know and appreciate what I have.

Maybe I didn't get enough sleep last night (both kids were up at odd hours). Maybe it's the cold weather (forgive me for saying that bp)). Maybe I need to go out to a beauty salon for a massage. My husband told me to make an appointment for the massage. He's a keeper.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:30 PM



Eiffel Tower Morning

The view while walking home from the grocery store this morning. The sun was very bright.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:02 AM



Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Greves Galore


After not hearing about greves/strikes for a while, they are back in full force this week. A full hour of French class was devoted to discussing the greves this week. On one hand it seems crazy that the strikes are planned ahead and for a specified time, but let me tell you that even when you know ahead of time, the strike can make your life very difficult.

I remember that about three or more years ago there was a strike by the railway union when I had a flight to Rome to meet my husband there. I took a cab from my apartment to CDG with my two small children. The normally 30-45 minute cab trip took three hours because of the congestion from people driving and not taking the train. The kids were upset because all the food and drink I had brought were in the trunk. We missed our flight and I had two unhappy children to contend with until we arrived at the Rome airport many hours later.

Anyway, according to the greve timetable for the week, today the mail carrier union was on strike for day. You could still go to the post office and mail letters or packages, but no mail was delivered to your home. This strike is over tomorrow.

Tonight at 8pm a number of the trade unions for the railway, SNCF, start their strike. Hopefully none of you were planning a trip by train. Widespread cancellations are expected. The RER (train lines in Paris that connect to the suburbs) is expected to be basically closed. There will be a lot of congestion as people try to commute to their office tomorrow. Also on Wednesday, public hospital surgeons, who my teacher said earned 1,000 euro/month, are expected to strike for a pay increase.

Teachers in public schools are expected to strike on Thursday. It's as close to a snow day as you get here in Paris. Parents can call ahead to find out if the teacher for their children has shown up for work. Otherwise, it's a day off from school! The thrill of a potential day off. Remember how good that felt?

There are whole websites -- pro, con, purely informational -- devoted to the "Mouvements sociaux" or social movements that are going on in France. The best and most comprehensive is in Le Nouvel Observateur.

The funny thing though is that not everyone goes on strike. For instance individual metro lines will have reduced service, but others run as normal, or that individual teachers will show for work. Tomorrow, the five RER lines will be running from 16% to 25% capacity.

Bonne route!

-- said Auntie M in Paris
8:20 PM



Movie Set

At this moment it is snowing and raining at the same time and the sun is trying to peek out of the clouds. Most days in Paris you can experience many types of weather: a cloudy morning, a cold, rainy mid-day, a beautiful, sunny after noon, a warm evening... that is not out of the ordinary. Since most people walk everywhere in the city, it makes layering essential when you leave your house in the morning.

This rainy morning, on my way to French class I took a picture of the narrow building I referred to the other day. The building does expand into a triangle shape, but you can't see that from the picture I've taken. I think this picture looks like a movie set where there is only a facade of a structure; but I promise it's a real apartment building.

Update: In the 8 minutes it took to write this post, the weather has completely changed. The rain and snow have stopped. The sun is shining bright. I'm off to enjoy the rest of my day while it is nice out.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
2:00 PM



Monday, January 17, 2005


One of the boulangeries/bakeries near my home is Bechu. I think most people, including former Paris resident and blog reader CMAC, would agree that it is one of the best bakeries in the neighborhood. Last year, the city of Paris determined what we already knew, Bechu makes some of the Paris' best baguettes!

Last year, Bechu participated in the Grand Prix of the Baguette -- a high prize indeed in this country of wonderful bread. All bakers of Paris were invited to participate in the competition. The prize was handed out last February. Bechu didn't win the top prize; that went to Pierre Thilloux - La fournée d'Augustine. Bechu advertises on all the store windows (bottom left of the picture) that they were awarded at the competition, so I assume they were a finalist.

Presumably, the bakeries are competing now for the best baguette of 2005, which will be awarded next month. I hope Bechu wins again this year, but since there is already always a line for their baguettes, it's just as well the top prize eludes them as far as I'm concerned. Otherwise Parisians from all over town will be coming to our small local bakery.

If you find yourself shopping on av Victor Hugo in the 16th arrondissement, you should stop by to have a wonderful baguette and if you're lucky it will be warm from the oven.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:21 AM



Sunday, January 16, 2005

Seaworthy Napoleon

Today we thought it was very cold out, so we didn't want to bring the kids to the park. We also had my son's best friend over, so we really didn't want to stay in the house either. So we took a short walk to the Musée de la Marine at Trocadero.

The museum was absolutely filled with models of ships along with a few pictures and displays. There was a lot of free space and few guards to yell at kids running through the place. This museum had a treasure hunt for kids... a list of items they must find in the museum. It kept them busy for quite a while as we crossed paths with them running from one place to another. After a good 45 minutes or so they came back with a long look on their face. They hadn't found anything! They were basically stuck at number one. My husband went off to help them and found out that items one and two were in a gallery that was closed for restoration. Of course, during this wild goose chase they managed to see the entire museum.

There were many interesting nautical items to look at, but one huge sculpture caught my eye: a bust of Napoleon I (in his Julius Cesar incarnation.)

This bust of Napoleon I was used on the bow of the vessel Le Iéna around 1880. Iéna, in Germany, was a famous battle where Napoleon crushed the Prussian army.

When we left the museum, it was nice enough outside to play at the Trocadero park for a while. I took a picture of Les Invalides again. The building behind it to the left is the Pantheon.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:44 PM



Saturday, January 15, 2005

CSJ Lunch

Yesterday the English speaking mothers from my school got together for lunch. There were seven of us who met after dropping our kids off at school. I think there might be one or two other English speakers, but really there aren't many more.... and that's probably out of 150 families at a "bilngual" school.

We met outside of the school and walked to Le Kiosque for good company and a delicious meal. Of course, you have to work to find a bad meal in Paris -- at least outside the tourist areas. We talked about the sales, the spouses, must-go to restaurants, and anything else that came to mind. It was great since we don't usually hang out together as a group.

Everyone enjoyed the meal, and we were all extremely impressed with the presentation of the Coquilles St. Jacques (CSJ). Don't you agree?

Of course, what I found really funny -- and the point of this boring post -- was how they managed to keep it that way...

-- said Auntie M in Paris
6:18 PM



Friday, January 14, 2005

Friendly Shopping

My friend asked if I'd like to go shopping with her this morning at one of the large department stores. We met at our local metro stop and decided to shop at Galeries Lafayette. The metro drops you right off to the basement of the store. You don't even have to walk outside.

I wouldn't have gone to one of the major department stores on the third day of the sales if I wasn't with my friend. But, I was surprised that the store was not mobbed with people. My friend bought two handbags (although she is having buyers remorse on one...) and a fitted coat while I was there (she stayed when I had to leave to pick up my daughter). She inspired me to find something I really needed and apparently it was a Christian Lacroix shirt marked down by 40%. For the first time since I've been in Paris I actually used my 10% off card that all Americans seem to have, so I saved even more money. I love my purchase.

Here is a picture of the dome at the Galeries Lafayette store.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:16 PM



Benefit Concerts

Just wanted to pass on the word about two Paris benefit concert for the victims of the Asia Tsunami.

The American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Paris is hosting a benefit concert on Sunday, January 16 at 5:00pm. The Mozart Requiem will be performed.

GOAL, an International Humanitarian Organization, is hosting a benefit concert with Irish musicians at O'Sullivans by the Mill in the 18th arrondissement. This concert will be held on Wednesday, January 19 starting at 8:00pm.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
7:39 PM



Smoke in my Eyes

I had a really nice day yesterday. I met a French friend for coffee. Then I tried a metro line I've never tried before -- the 14 line -- which is completely automated. There are no people driving this metro line. My friend told me she chose her apartment by location... so she'd be on the 14 line and would never have to worry about a greve/strike.

I took the 14 line to get to cross town and meet with two fellow bloggers, Vivi and Jason. What fun! I don't think we stopped talking. It was like meeting with old friends who knew so many of your old stories or experiences. Someone would say, did you read my story about...blah blah blah... and we'd say "Oh yes, I remember that story! That was a great story." We also got to ask each other questions that you wonder about when you read a part of a life... but don't get the full picture. I had such an enjoyable time.

After school my husband and I had our date night and tried a local restaurant that is always busy. We arrived at 7:50pm and were told we could wait at a table for the restaurant to open at 8:00pm. By the time our food arrived the place was packed.... with smokers. There was a couple on each side and all four people smoked. It was overwhelming. Even though the food was good, I don't think I'd go again because the smoke was stifling and I couldn't enjoy my meal. I just wanted to leave. I won't go into detail about the couple sucking face (between smokes) next to us. I've never heard so much noise made while kissing. I had to turn the other way to not laugh. I'm sure they were on a date, but really! Between the smoke and the kissing I felt like I was in a real French restaurant (does Italian restaurant in Paris count?).

The city of Paris now has a list of restaurants that are now smoke free. Look for this sign.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
1:39 PM



Thursday, January 13, 2005

Bush Message

I met with a French friend this morning for coffee. After catching up we ended up talking politics as we sometimes do. She asked me my opinion on Bush's "advertisement" as she called it. Apparently, yesterday there was a "message from Bush" to Europe printed in some French papers, including Le Parisien.

The article my friend was referring to was a newspaper opinion piece signed by President Bush and sent out to foreign newspapers. I guess it is an effort by the Administration to improve public relations abroad. Parts of the opinion piece include: "Americans join all those who cry for the tens of thousands of lives carried by the violent tsunami..... The principal source of generosity of America is the heart of its people ... the Americans will do all that they will be able to help the people of Asia .... We offer the durable engagement of America."

I was taken off guard when my friend asked me about the "ad" because I hadn't read anything about it from the internet news that I check daily. When I got home and knew what to look for, I still had a difficult time finding details about the editorial from English news stories. It's times like these when I feel a bit disconnected from both the US and France.

On the way to coffee this morning, I took this picture of the Opera Garnier where the sun was hitting the famous building. The "N" stands for Napoleon III, who ordered construction of the building. Looking at the gold leaf winged sculpture on the roof is amazing... it's almost too bright when the sun is hitting it right.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
6:18 PM



Wednesday, January 12, 2005


I've taken a picture of one of my favorite apartment buildings in Paris. It's one of my favorites because it has a cupola, a dome shaped structure on top. One of the best things about the Parisian architecture, as far as I'm concerned, is the interesting shapes you find.

Most of the corner building have rounded edges. Some older building come to a point at the corner expanding in the shape of a triangle. I always wonder what you do with such a narrow room. Yesterday I found a building that actually looks like an undulating wave on the roof. I almost couldn't take my eyes off the building. These buildings just don't seem practical, but maybe that is why they are so interesting.

But this neighborhood building with the cupola occupies my imagination every day I pass it. The cupola room must be immense. I understand that usually the cupola rooms are not divided, they are just big circular rooms.

How would you arrange your furniture or paintings when there are no flat walls? What would you use the room for? The kids play room? The Bedroom? A fitness room (you'd want to go to the exercise room to regard the views of Paris each morning). My mind wanders at the possibility.

I liked the way the light was hitting the building the other day, so I took a picture.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
7:36 PM



Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Have I mentioned how many gifts we had to bring back from the US this Christmas. Of course I have because we had to lug them over here. What has surprised me about the gifts is that many of them are another language or multi-lingual.

For instance, right now my daughter is playing with her Hello Kitty cash register that her uncle brought her from Tokyo (he lives there). She can scan each item for the cash register from the bar code provided, just like a real store cashier. I have absolutely no idea what Hello Kitty is saying, but her uncle told us some of the phrases when he gave my daughter the gift. Apparently, Hello Kitty says things like "You are buying a lot!" and "That is very expensive!" My daughter loves the gift and "repeats" the Japanese phrases and then asks me if I understand what Hello Kitty is saying. When I tell her I don't understand, she tells me that Hello Kitty said "Please use your credit card!" She makes it up. At least I think she does.

Another item my daughter received is a Dora the Explorer bingo game. Dora speaks in English and Spanish and her bingo cards have the colors on one side and animals on the other in both languages. My daughter seems to love how the Spanish words flow from her mouth and she repeats the words often. "Do you have a star that is yellow, amarilla?" In France, Dora is still bi-lingual, but her primary language is French and her second language is English. It's one of her favorite shows.

Birthdays are fun as well. Of course we have to sing happy birthday in French and English, but my son has added Spanish to the list. (His school teaches some Spanish as well as being a bi-lingual French-English school.) When we are in the States family members inevitably start blowing out the candles when he launches into language number three and have to pull back and smile.

I'm just wondering if my children will be speaking 3 or 4 languages in a few years while I continue to slowly improve upon my French and confuse my English. I don't know if I should feel proud or embarrassed.

As Dora would say, Goodbye, Adios!

-- said Auntie M in Paris
8:32 PM



Monday, January 10, 2005


The sales are coming! The sales are coming!

The sales occur in France twice a year, by law. According to WHERE magazine "in 1999 the French government decreed that the entire nation should hold its sales at the same time (Jan. and July)." I walked around a shopping district and I saw they were moving the merchandise around the store -- all items that will be part of the sale are prominently displayed. Many stores will be closed tomorrow for an inventory of their goods.

The sale starts on Wednesday January 12 and lasts until February 12. As the sales continue on through the weeks, stores continue to mark-down their dwindling stock. You can really get some good deals from the top brands you only dreamed about owning.

The whole sales frenzy twice a year makes me a little nervous. I start looking in store windows to make a mental list of what I would want, just in case that item goes on sale. I start seeing stuff I want, when I never thought of it before ... but it's probably going to be on sale for a lot less... so now I need it. Over the years I've bought some beautiful hand bags, shoes, and dresses during the sales, in stores I wouldn't even walk into the rest of the year.

I always think of a French friend who took a trip to the US for the first time a few years ago. The friend found a sales circular from a local mall and couldn't believe his good fortune that he arrived during the US sales. How disappointed he was to find that everyday is sales day in the US (especially now with the exchange rate :) ).

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:58 PM



Paris Morning

After dropping off the kids at school this morning I headed over to Pâtisserie Carette to meet a fellow Paris mom and blogger. Carette is one of those patisserie's that is listed in all the Paris guidebooks, like the Food Lovers Guide. It is a well deserved reputation. Carette has some of the most beautiful and delicious pastries in Paris.

Carette is located right on Trocadero circle and is a wonderful place for afternoon tea, or a tartine (a flute - think thinner and smaller than a bagette - sliced in half and served with a small dish of butter and confiture), which is what we had this in the morning....

The sun was still rising and there was a pink/orange haze over the cityscape as I took this picture of Les Invalides.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
2:14 PM



Sunday, January 09, 2005

On the Rocks

Today we the family went to the Jardin D'Acclimatation because my son had a birthday party there this afternoon. When we dropped my son off the hosts told me that they would bring him back home. They were going to bring my son and their birthday boy around the park after the party to go on a couple of amusement rides. I left with my daughter and husband to walk around the park.

My daughter had a friend (who's sister was at the party) she was playing with. They climbed some stone stairs behind some bushes. My husband was walking over there to keep an eye on the girls when I hear the scream. My husband starts running over and it begins to dawn on me that it's my daughter (not my son, who screams like that once a week, at least) and she never screams when she gets hurt unless it's serious. She comes out from the bush area with blood pouring from her face. It's such a jarring site... to see your child covered in blood -- on the face, on the shirt, on the hands.... She is still screaming and I put her on my lap and try to comfort her while trying to see where the blood is coming from. She takes a napkin and holds it to her mouth and is yelling that she is in pain.

Even though we are at the Jardin, a children's amusement park, I don't know where we can go for help. There is no obvious place or sign. My husband said "we need ice! " There is a cafe about 60 feet away and he runs over there.

Have I ever mentioned that ice is one of those cultural differences between the US and France? People in the US love ice in their drinks. People in France rarely use ice in their drinks. Heck, I've found that the French kids don't even like their drinks too cold. I've been accused by French parents that I keep my refrigerator too cold. One woman put the yogurt from my refrigerator under tap water because it was too cold for her child. I digress..

Anyway my husband asks the cafe restaurant people if they have ice. "Non." Can you imagine? But I wasn't surprised. So he had to buy an ice cream popsicle. My daughter put the popsicle on her lip, which received the brunt of the damage. She kept that popsicle, covered, on her lip for a long time. I was glad we didn't need to wait to pick up my son from the party! It's interesting how things work out.

In the midst of this my friend produced a map and it turns out there is a first aid center so we went to have someone look at the cut. We walked into the building -- bleeding, screaming child in tow -- and asked for directions to first aid. The man says its here and abruptly hands over a simple first aid kit. We asked if there was someone to look at the cut and he says "I'll call the firemen (first response)." After deciding that might be a little overkill, we managed to pry my daughter's hands away from her face (after assuring her that no doctors were going to give her a shot) and it looked like she put a tooth through her lip, but we decided she didn't need stitches and was ultimately ok. No teeth moved, thank goodness. After we calmed her down, the man turned very nice and even drew her a little picture of a bunny with a bandage on. We're still amazed that the place designated as first aid is at one secluded end of a big park and is equipped with no trained personnel and essentially offers just bandages and anti-biotic cream. Of course they probably don't have that in the US anymore for fear of liability laws ...

My daughter had some medicine and seems to be on the road to recovery. She's got the fattest lip! Hopefully the swelling will be gone by the morning.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:10 PM



Saturday, January 08, 2005

A typical Saturday

Today we woke up early to get my husband and son to basketball practice. After basketball my son went to a friend's home to play. The parents brought him back and my son then had a school friend over for a play date (that was set up before the previously mentioned play date). Then after his friend left, his best friend came over for dinner and a sleep over. I figured we were here, so why not? I don't often book my son's day so full, but that is the way it worked out and he was very happy. My son is happiest when he has a friend around.

My daughter is the opposite, at least for now. She had a birthday party to attend this afternoon and she extracted a promise for me to stay the whole time (otherwise she wasn't going to go -- and it would have been fine for her to hang out at home all day with me). I said I would only if she didn't sit on my lap the whole time (that has happened before). And so it went that the two of us walked over to her birthday party (actually, I pushed her in the stroller... it was over a mile away... and I already know she's too old for a stroller) and I sat around a kid's party for 3 hours. The host made me welcome, but it is so awkward. I don't know about the US, but parents don't stay for kids parties here. I was the only parent there.

Actually, I wouldn't have made it there at all if I hadn't talked to the nanny at the park the other day. I was asking if she'd be at the party and she pointed out that it wouldn't be at the child's house (I saw on the invitation that it was at an apartment and I didn't look at the details). I guess the parents separated over the holidays and the husband already had a new, huge apartment down the street. So I sat in his huge, very loud, yet depressing apartment for three hours. It looked like the guy had just moved in. There were only two pictures on the wall -- of each of his kids. Otherwise besides a table and chairs and a couch the rooms that I saw were empty.

They seemed like such a happy couple. It just goes to prove you don't really know how other people are doing. The wife did come to the party and I couldn't help but watch them when they were in the same room. What went wrong???? I wanted to ask. But I wouldn't, even if I could figure out how to ask in French.

I was telling my husband how much it bothered me when I got home, and he asked if we know any friends that have gotten a divorce. I really don't think we've had friends -- a couple that we have hung out with -- that have been through a divorce. Maybe because it's unfamiliar to me ( no one in my family has been divorced -- grandparents, parents, sisters). It really makes me feel so uneasy. I guess because I always want everyone to get along and that there always be a happy ending -- I am the baby in the family, after all.

When do the little things add up to big problems in a marriage? How do you want to live with someone the rest of your life one day and not a day longer the next?

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:47 PM



Friday, January 07, 2005

Musee D'Orsay

I took the bus to the Musée d'Orsay for my Friday walking tour. With its location right next to the Seine, I think it's by far one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris. It started out as a train station in 1900, opening its doors for the first time to coincide with the World's Fair in Paris. By 1940, the station was obsolete because the platforms had become too short for the modern, longer trains. After many uses, and being spared the wrecking ball at the last minute in 1970, it opened its doors as a museum in 1986. For now it holds a range of art from 1848-1914, including but not limited to the impressionist period. The impressionist collection was originally situated in the Jeu de Paume. You can always tell the last time a visitor was in France if they ask to go to the Jeu de Paume to see the impressionists -- it's been more than 15 years since the move to Orsay.

It was a wonderful tour. We focused on a few of the most famous paintings in the museum. We also looked at a sculpture by Camille Claudel. She was the student and mistress, for over 10 years, of the sculpture Rodin. Although Rodin wasn't married, he had a long-term partner, Rose Beuret, who bore him a son. The sculpture below (L’Age Mûr) is by Claudel representing her break-up by Rodin and his going back to Rose for good. Claudel is the beautiful one on her knees begging him to come back. The woman envelopping Rodin, Rose, looks like an old hag. It's a really powerful piece.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:12 PM




Paris is a refined, beautiful, formal place. At least that's what I thought! I nearly jumped from my bus seat this morning when I saw the latest 2012 sign. It's NEON and on one of the older buildings in Paris, the National Assembly! Apparently, the 2012 signs will also adorne the French Assembly, the City Hall and four bridges until July 6, 2005.

So I pushed the bus button and got off at the next stop to take a picture. Since I have a strange sense of humor (often I'm the only one to find something funny), I couldn't stop laughing when I took this picture. The guard kept staring at me as though I was up to no good. But I just couldn't stop because it seemed like the antithesis of Parisian-ness to have neon....

I guess Paris really, really wants to host the 2012 Olympics. I'm going to do my part by adding a Paris 2012 button. However, after looking for 30 minutes, I can't find one to add to the side of my blog. Does anyone have a 2012 button they can share with me?
Allez Paris!!

-- said Auntie M in Paris
4:08 PM



Thursday, January 06, 2005

Knitted Gifts

My family received some homemade gifts for Christmas. Since a number of knitters view this blog, I thought I'd show off the gifts. One is a scarf my US sister made me -- extra long and thin to show off on the streets of Paris. The second is a cute poncho for my daughter made by her great Aunt on her Dad's side of the family. The third is a beautiful cable sweater my French sister made for my daughter before Christmas.

I have no idea what kind of wool was used or any other details. I do think all three pieces are really pretty.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:55 PM



Galette Des Rois

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me.... a galette des rois. Actually, I had to buy it myself, but that's ok.

The Galette des Rois is a French dessert traditionally served on the day of Epiphany. It is a puff pastry filled with an almond cream called frangipane, and a small china figurine called la fève. Originally, a dry bean, which is fève in French, was used. The fève/figurine is baked into the cake, and the person who finds it in his or her slice becomes King or Queen for the day.

We'll have ours after dinner tonight and I'm going to guarantee our cake comes with two fèves (it's best to keep an old one on hand to stuff in the piece of the child who hasn't been cut the lucky slice -- take my advice).

For those of you in Paris, you can buy a "kit" at Casino or Franprix and make one at home. The kit comes with a fève and a crown. I brought them to the US on my last trip and they were a big hit.... a little bit of French culture to share and eat with the family. Also, my friend told me this morning that you can buy extra, interesting fèves at E.Dehillerin... just in case you have more than a King or Queen in your home :)

Galette des Rois waiting to crown a King or Queen.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
1:31 PM



Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Gruss Circus

Just when I was going to swear off going to the circus, I was won over by le Cirque National Alexis Gruss today. After golf, I went there with my kids and two of my sons friends. I had ordered the tickets in November, before my other circus experiences. This circus was 2 1/2 hours long and cost 35 euro for the closest possible seats. The kids could have touched the performers if they wanted to; they were that close.

This was a family show. At the beginning, the patriarch (who you see on the website) sits there with his son and three grandsons. He tells the audience that his grandsons represent the 6th generation of Gruss family circus performers. It really is a family affair and you feel it all through the show. Nine out of the 14 performers were Gruss family members and they did everything... performing, helping other performers, manning concession stands during the intermission.
There were very few animals in this show -- one camel, two elephants -- and the performers didn't rely on the whip as much. There were a lot of different, beautiful horses, but that was about it. Really the show relied on the people performers, not the animals, and the people were great. There was also a band and that added to the feel that this was a real show.

I had a few favorite acts, but the kids and I probably agree that the best skit involved the cowboys. A group of cowboys came out with a guy in a kilt and performed lasso tricks. The kilt guy jumped and performed somersaults over a bunch of horses. Most of the cowboys left the circle stage and the patriarch remained and was given two whips about 10 feet long each. The things that 70 something man can do with a whip! I was nearly biting my finger nails off when he used his whip to cut a cigarette in half from the mouth of his wife!

I really was intrigued why a guy in a kilt was out there with the cowboys. So when I found myself close to the kilt guy during the intermission, I asked him, "pourquoi le jupe?/why the skirt?" He seemed to understand my bad French and responded that cowboys originated in Ireland! So him wearing a kilt fit right in with the cowboy skit. I was shocked. I'd never heard this before.

I've tried desperately to find something that proves that cowboys began in Ireland, but have found nothing. Most articles I found state that cowboys started in Mexico and Americans absorbed the culture and developed their own style. Maybe one of you knows more than this? I must ask my Irish friend tomorrow....

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:30 PM



A Moment

One of the disadvantages of not reading the French news is that I'm rarely up to date on current events in the country where I live. Today was a prime example. I'm picking up the kids at the school. I've picked up my daughter who is let out of class (maternelle/pre-k) at 11:50am and then wait for my son who is let out of class at 12:00pm. Before he was let out of class, a loud alarm goes off in the school. At first I panic that it is the fire alarm, but no one moves. In fact things get quiet. People gradually stop talking. Then it hits me.... they must be having a moment of silence for the poor victims of the Asia tsunami. I realize this only because, sadly, this experience happened not too long ago when there was a moment of silence for the victims of the subway bombing in Madrid, Spain.
Then the Mairie/Town Hall blows its horn for about 20 seconds. Everyone is standing in the rain and it seems appropriate. It makes the moment more somber. In all, three minutes pass before the school alarm goes off again and parents resume the process of picking up their children.
I really appreciate these moments of silence. I know they don't change anything, but it's nice to have the focus of a few minutes be for everyone to remember the poor victims of Asia and I couldn't help but feel very lucky to be here with the rain on my face and my children close by.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
7:20 PM



Tuesday, January 04, 2005


I'm trying to get back into my routine, but it's difficult because I'm overwhelmed with stuff. We brought an amazing number of Christmas toys back to an apartment that was already crammed with more than 4 years of life. I suppose you'd think it would be a good idea to get rid of the crib and changing table and I couldn't agree with you more. I'm still trying to unpack the last of the suitcases (yes we did end up getting our lost luggage) and then tonight we got a grocery delivery from Carrefour. Grocery delivery is a wonderful thing and something that I understand has not yet caught on in the US that much. In fact being Paris and a big city you can get virtually anything delivered
Anyway, now between the luggage and groceries I can barely walk through my apartment.
Plus I need it clean since our landlord and an insurance guy are coming on thursday to look at some water damage. But that is another whole blogging story!
Must not touch computer tomorrow. Must clean house. Must not touch computer tomorrow. Must clean the house. If I say it often enough, maybe it will happen.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:10 PM



Daughter Stories

My daughter just told me that she had hiccups today and when you have hiccups you need to drink water. So I asked her if she drank some water. She said "no," because her teacher was angry. Why was she angry? Because she lost something and it took a long time to find it.
When my daughter tells me stories like these it really makes me panic. What stories from home does she tell her teacher? "Mommy said she'd pull her hair out if my brother didn't do his homework," or something equally newsworthy that I don't even remember saying. Scary, I tell you.
Yesterday my daughter asked me, "Mommy, how do you say "computer" in English?" !!! I'm still amazed, though, my children are basically able to keep two languages straight in their heads. They get confused much less often than I do.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:08 PM



Monday, January 03, 2005

Buche de Noel

At the park today after school, a Portuguese friend, who's lived in France for 30 years asked me if I have tried a Buche de Noel. Before the Christmas vacation, I had told her that after 4 years in Paris I have yet to try a Buche de Noel cake. I told her today I hadn't and worried that the bakeries might not be selling them anymore. She assured me they are, and if they aren't, the one at Picard is delicious!
Well after her talk, I bought the first chocolate Buche de Noel cake that I found. It wasn't what I expected. It was a roll cake with little pieces of dried fruit in an orange cream filling. It was good, but not great. But at least it's not a mystery to me (these difficult tasks I subject myself to...)

A little anecdote... a friend told me today that the American Embassy supposedly sent around a security alert on New Year's Eve that people should be vigilante about...... flying Champagne bottles. Apparently, when the French finish their bottle of Champagne on this festive evening, some throw the bottle up into the air. Has anyone ever heard of this? Those bottles are so heavy they could kill someone! Forget about snipers, remember the bottles and duck!

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:02 PM




When we got back to the apartment on Friday afternoon, a couple of us took a nap and the rest unpacked and relaxed. As soon as his nap was over, my husband headed out for a few necessary food items. If we didn't buy the items on Friday we'd be stuck for the rest of the weekend because all the grocery stores around us were closed for the holiday on Saturday and are normally closed on Sunday. So my husband bought some milk, bread, meat, cheese and apples -- at five different stores (the bakery, the cheese store, the Italian store, the grocery store, and the butcher). He just bought the apples at the grocery store so he didn't have to run to the fruit and vegetable store;) We supplemented our meals with some frozen corn, spinach and blueberries, so today I had to restock.
One of the secrets of French cuisine, if I may call it that, is that in France there is a whole chain of frozen food stores to make easy meals. This icy mecca is called PICARD. As far as I can tell, many French use Picard (there are two stores within an 8 minute walk for me).
I can't tell you how many times I have had something at a person's house and when I asked about the recipe, I was told "Picard!" Personally, I buy fruits, vegetables and chicken nuggets there, but there is so much more. For instance, you could buy frozen shrimp that really taste wonderful as shrimp cocktail. There are frozen pastry pie shells (to use with the frozen fruit) when you want to make a delicious dessert for uninvited last minute guests. There are frogs legs, leeks, escargot, steak, salmon, crepes, quiches, galette des rois, soups, and potatoes of all kinds (pommes dauphine are the best). The list doesn't stop. And best of all, if you don't have time even to shop for that frozen food, they deliver -- at least in the Paris area.

My local Picard

-- said Auntie M in Paris
3:09 PM



Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Lighted Eiffel Tower

Last night we finally got out of the house -- at about 10pm. Not bad since the family didn't wake up until 12:30pm. But how wonderful it felt to go out last night. It was cool and a bit windy, but it felt delicious. I do love this city.
I also have a confession... our family treats the area around Eiffel Tower, Trocadero Park, as our back yard. Trocadero Park is the place our family always walks to on our first days back in Paris. We go there when we have some time on a Sunday night. The kids love the play area in Trocadero Park, and what better backdrop is there than the Eiffel Tower? When the kids want to ride their bikes, we often go there because there is a nice hill. But mostly, we go there because the whole family never tires of enjoying the sight of the Eiffel Tower.
Anyway, as we were walking out last night, I remembered a friend had told me that they are now selling wonderfully-tacky battery-operated multi-colored light-up Eiffel Towers. When I got there, I saw them.... and they are just as beautifully tacky as you can imagine! I wanted one. But I realized I only had dollars on my person. My husband had already blown through most of his cash on barbe a papa (papa's beard)/cotton candy and a nutella crepe for the kids as well as rides on the Trocadero carousel. So I just wanted to find out how much the lighted Eiffel Towers cost. I ask the second or third walking vendor that came up to me... "How much?" They all speak English. He says "15." I say "ok" thinking I'll bring 15 euro next time. He then goes "10." I say, "maybe next time." So he says "7?" I felt like telling him, "you had me at 15." Of course the price is now max 7 euro.
This reminded me of our trip to Morocco at Christmas time last year. My husband and I bought a rug and we really didn't negotiate much. We were told after that to haggle for a rug should take most of the day! We felt completely ripped off. It was still a good price... better than we could get anywhere out of Morocco, but higher than the next person could negotiate. We met a lovely French couple at our Morocco hotel and they told us Americans just can't negotiate. We don't have open markets where we can practice that skill. This couple was so good, they negotiated a lower fare for the cab driver to take them into town. We felt like such failures. It still makes me feel bad when I think about the rug experience. How are your negotiating skills?

My son enjoying a ride on the carousel at Trocadero Park.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:19 PM



Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Quake

My family has been traveling for the last few days and so I haven't been able to focus on the Asia Earthquake that set off a Tsunami. It's hard not to be affected by the complete loss in that region in the world. Now that I'm home I am reviewing the many charities that are accepting donations and am deciding between two: The United Nations World Food Program and OxFam. A donation to one of these charities seems like a good way to start the New Year.
When reading the local newspaper the other day, I saw a story about the Bam, Iran earthquake which happened about the same time last year. I realized the only story I remember about Bam concerned an American couple that were tourists. The man died. Does that say something about me or about the news reporting, I'm not sure.
These stories reminded me of a more personal story. I grew up in a house with my parents upstairs and my grandmother living downstairs. Occasionally, my widowed grandmother would take out a big, old, picture of a couple with two young children. She'd tell me that the man in the picture was her brother, his wife and children and that they'd all died in the 1908 earthquake in Sicily, Italy. That earthquake also triggered a tsunami that hit the island of Sicily and by various reports killed anywhere from 90,000 to 200,000 people.
My grandmother survived. She was 12 years old at the time. Her future husband was in Messina, Sicily too. All of his relatives perished. In 1911, separately, my grandmother and grandfather both took boats to the USA and passed through Ellis Island. Whenever people see my Italian maiden name they ask if I'm related to this person or that person and I always say "no." All of my Italian relatives died in the 1908 earthquake. Of course, I was too young to understand my grandmother's story, but now I have a greater appreciation of how devastated she must have been.
My heart goes out to the people of the Asia Tsunami.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
5:14 PM



Happy New Year!

Bonne Annee to everyone out there. Thank you for reading my blog. These past few months have been interesting. I've enjoyed meeting you through your comments and blogs. I wish you the best in 2005...good health, loyal friends and peace throughout the world.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
2:06 PM