Saturday, April 30, 2005


Some friends are almost too appreciative of a favor. We were recently invited to a dinner at Ambroisie, a Michelin Guide Red three star restaurant by these good friends. In French culinary terms, it doesn't get better than three stars.

The "Red Bible," as it is known, is a symbol of French culinary achievement and a guarantor of French culinary standards. It has long been a springboard to fame and riches for chefs, and the importance the chefs attach to Michelin stars has only magnified the guide's importance to restaurant-goers. In fact, a star can make or break a restaurant -- the loss of a star -- according to some -- will generally cut a restaurant's turnover by at least 25 percent. The addition of a star will guarantee prices to rise. Down the street we have a one-star Chinese restaurant. A meal there goes for 60 euro per person... for Chinese food!

With the highest three-star ranking you expect a wonderful, even magnificent meal and Ambroisie didn't disappoint. Located on the Place Vosges in the Marais, we walked in and were promptly greeted and shown to our table. Immediately, waiters were on hand to ask if we wanted an apperitif (bien sur!). Two of us ordered Kir royals and the other two champagne. After we were handed our menus, the waiter brought out some cheesy puff pastries. They were light yet flavorful. Then we listened to the waiters recommendations. When we ordered, if we choose his recommendation, he would say "merci pour votre confidence"/ thank you for your confidence.

If you look at reviews for Ambroisie, they all say that the chef, Bernard Pacaud, picks his menu by what is fresh for that season. Our menu was Printemps/Spring with lots of mushrooms and asparagus. I will tell you what I ordered.

To start I had the "feuillantine de queues de langostines au graines de sesame, sauce curry" -- beautiful big yet tender langostines (his recommendation) in between layers of a baked sesame (how do I say this??) crisp in a curry sauce. I was hesitant because I thought the curry would overpower the langoistines, but the sauce was mild and really complimented the fish.

After the first course, I ordered the "cote de veau double roti etuvee d'asperges et morilles" -- veal with tiny, flavorful morel mushrooms, not the lamb (as the waiter recommended, but the men ordered it and thought it was delicious). The veal came out perfectly cooked with most of the mushrooms and asparagus on a side plate. The flavors blended perfectly. To drink with the dinner we had a lovely 1979 Chateau Kirwan from Bordeaux.

The waiter recommended the chocolate tarte for dessert. The owner mentioned that it has been on the menu for 24 years. My husband wasn't going to take the recommendation and asked for the "soupe de fraise" or strawberry soup. The owner said , no the chocolate tarte is recommended monsieur. Backed into the corner, he ordered the chocolate tarte. A few minutes later the waiter brought out a "little surprise from the kitchen, because nothing is impossible at Ambroisie." It was the "soupe de fraises de jardin -cote de nuits- conversation aux amandes" and it was a little surprise for everyone. Delicious and light. Then for the real dessert... "tarte fine sablee au chocolate, glace a la vanille" -- a chocolate tarte with the most delicious, buttery and fine crust with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to balance the strong chocolate. I ate every bite and so did everyone else. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?

What a spectacular dining experience.

** Sorry no pictures of the food, my husband who barely tolerates my picture taking in normal restaurants would have surely died of embarrassment here.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
8:07 PM



Thursday, April 28, 2005

Grassy Subject

My US sister has been amused by my stories of woe regarding how the French don't allow people to walk, lay, play ball, breathe on the grass. So she sent me an article from the NY Times yesterday about keeping crowds off the Central Park grass.

While Paris is so concerned about its fragile city grass that often not even one child is allowed to play on the "pelouse," NYC has determined that Central Park will have to limit the number of people playing on the grass to 50,000. I guess the NYC grass is much heartier and tougher. We'd always heard that about the people. According to the NY Times article one of the angry opponents to the 50,000 limit accused the NY mayor's office of "seeking to maintain it as a lawn museum."

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:15 PM



Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Rainy Day

This week and next is the spring break in Paris. As usual, most of the French kids have left town for their country home and many of the other children left for a week trip somewhere. So my children often have only each other for their entertainment. Yesterday it rained and the kids needed to get out. So we took our scooters and rode around. They had so much fun riding through the puddles on the street.

It reminded me that on a rainy day a few weeks ago I looked out my kitchen window to find this beautiful rainbow. It was so long and brightly colored that I ran to take a picture.

So, our rainy day turned into a damp, cold evening. We had our weekly "date night" scheduled for last night. Neither of us wanted to go far in this weather, so we decided on a local favorite.... our fondue restaurant and it is definitely not a middle of July meal. It's the best fondue place we've found in Paris. The ones in the Latin Quarter don't compare. I didn't think of you, dear reader, until the meal was almost over. It's just that good.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
6:25 PM



Tuesday, April 26, 2005


I thought the Tintin exposition was really wonderful. If you are a fan of Tintin, or you have children who like the stories, go to Cheverny Chateau to see this exposition. It is a very interactive exhibit.

Tintin was created in 1929 by comic-strip artist Herge. Tintin is a reporter and has a faithful dog, Milou. There are 24 Tintin books, including one of Tintin in America.

The exposition references many of the books. The exhibit begins with a video from one of the stories. Then you enter a room that is a complete re-enactment of the room in the movie you just watched. Unlike a museum, the kids could actually touch everything. There were secret panels on the wall to find scenes from the book. One panel had a model boat from one of the stories. One room, from a story in the Calculus Affair (L'Affaire Tournesol), I believe, was essentially a haunted room.... lightening and storm sounds, the lights go out, noises from behind doors.... The kids loved it. The phone even rang and my son raced to answer it! No one was there.

Here is a picture of my son pretending to brush his teeth at the sink. This was a scene from TinTin L'Affaire Tournesol.

Here is my son with a prop from The Red Sea Sharks (Le Tresor de Rackham le Rouge).

A final message from Herge. This is part of a large banner at the end of the exhibit.

This was one of the best exhibits I've seen in a while. Go see it!

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:13 AM



Monday, April 25, 2005


On Sunday we woke up to a dark overcast day and decided to take a road trip to the Loire Valley. We drove to Cheverny chateau about two hours away. On the way there, we passed by one of my favorite chateaux -- Chambord. We took a picture from the road. It's just a breathtaking place.

Chambord Chateau

We've been to the Loire Valley a few times but we've never visited Cheverny. What cinched the deal is the Tintin exposition they have there. My son is very interested in Tintin right now. He asked for Tintin books for his birthday. He's got about half of the collection now.

Cheverny chateau is owned by descendents of the original builders, the Hurault family. The family lived in the Chateau until 1985 and it is special because of that fact. The chateau has an intimate charm. There are pictures of the family prominently displaced. There is a rich collection of original furniture. My daughter kept asking who's room she was looking at because you felt like the owners were just in another room at the moment. There is also a treasure hunt for the children to entertain them as they walk through Cheverny chateau.

In addition, the grounds are beautiful. According to the brochure, the overall design of Cheverny was inspired by the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. Aside from walking around the grand park, you can ride a boat on the canal, take a ride on a golf cart (the golfcart guy came around to us no less than 4 times asking if we wanted to take a canal ride -- for an extra cost), and visit the kennels with 70 Anglo-French (Foxhound-Poitevins) dogs housed there. There is also an Orangery, which was closed to the public. During WWII the Orangery was used to house part of the treasures of the State, including the Mona Lisa.

We brought a lunch with us and there was a place specifically reserved for pique-niques. It was a lovely afternoon. After our tour of the chateau, and the purchase of a medallion, we headed into the small town for ice cream.

My kids walking up to the Chateau. Tintin walking up to the Chateau (take off the two wings of the chateau)

-- said Auntie M in Paris
5:07 PM



Sunday, April 24, 2005

Jardin des Enfants

After the Louvre yesterday we headed to Les Halles. My son has been asking to go to the Jardin des Enfants at Les Halles for quite a while. Jardin des Enfants is a really cool park for children aged 7 - 12. Last time we were there my son was 6, almost 7 and he wasn't allowed into the gated park.

The Jardin des Enfants is located very close to Saint-Eustache Church. It is a beautiful church that combines Gothic and Renaissance styles in its architecture. Richelieu and Moliere were baptized here.

St. Eustache Church

At the Jardin des Enfants you pay 40 cents and the children are allowed into the park hourly. The children hand the guardian the 40 cents and you are told to come back in an hour to pick up your child. You can't stay with the kids once they enter the gates, but there are a few observation decks to watch your child have a great time. In this gated "kid city" is a climbing wall, a maze, a tunnel, and lots of slides. My daughter and I walked to the nearby park designed for younger kids. She wasn't happy to be stuck with the little kids.

While I was walking around town yesterday, I took this picture of the Opera Garnier because it looked like the shot on my banner.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:49 PM



Saturday, April 23, 2005

Saturday at the Louvre

And so starts the two week break for children in Paris. During the vacation, we are heading to Egypt for a few days later this week. To prepare the children, I've bought a couple of books, but I thought it would be a good idea to see the Ancient Egyptian collection at the Louvre.

The Egyptian collection is a permanent part of the Louvre and was created in 1826 by Jean-Francois Champollion, who deciphered the mystery of hieroglyphics. The collection has grown through private donations since then. Below is a picture of the Large Sphinx from around 1898-1866 BC. We are really looking forward to our trip!

While we were at the Louvre we checked out the new room for La Jaconde/Mona Lisa. As I mentioned before, La Jaconde just got a new resting place, the Salle des Etat. The room was refurbished for 6 million dollars! With that kind of money spent, I had great expectations and I was disappointed. Here is a picture of the room. What do you think? $6 million??

One last picture. We walked past the Venus de Milo, a famous Greek statue. She supposedly represents Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. My son couldn't figure out why she doesn't have arms. I told him the statue was made in pieces and that was enough of an explanation for him. She is a beauty, although as I've already admitted, I seem to have developed a thing for statues.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
7:24 PM



Friday, April 22, 2005

Butte Aux Cailles

Last night we went out on a double date with my French friend Marie and her boyfriend. I've known Marie for 4 years and last month she mentioned she had a "petit ami." Apparently, her boyfriend was a bit skeptical of all things American, which was basically a challenge in my mind (my mind does work in mysterious ways). So I proposed a night out together.

They chose the restaurant -- typical, great French food with an interesting kir au vin rouge (red wine kir) as aperitif. We ended up going to the boyfriend's neighborhood... the 13th arrondissement. What a lively area of town! We took the metro to Corvisart and walked up to rue de la Butte aux Cailles. Nearing the street the first restaurant we passed had a number of "this restaurant is wonderful and cheap" stickers on the door window (Paris pas cher, routard etc.) The place is so crowded and the evening so pleasant that around 20 young adults have flowed from the restauarant/bar to have their drinks on the little used road outside. You really feel like you've entered a village... where you know and like your neighbors.

Our friends said that the Butte aux Cailles area is one of the Bo-Bo places. I found an article that explains bobos....They are 'bourgeois bohemians' - or 'Bobos' - and according to the article they're the new 'enlightened elite' of the information age -- well-educated thirty-to-fortysomethings, they have forged a new social ethos from a logic-defying fusion of 1960s counter-culture and 1980s entrepreneurial materialism. I think that basically means that it's considered a "cool" neighborhood and the housing prices have pushed out the working class population.

Dinner was very good. Our friends said that many of the restaurants serve a good meal at reasonable prices. Here is my meal, it was delicious.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:18 PM



Thursday, April 21, 2005

Je Parle Francais?!

On the way to school today a little boy, around 10 years old and by himself, stepped in some dog stuff on the side walk. For the next couple of minutes he'd try to scrape his sneakers against the street to get rid of the stuff. He's walking about the same speed as my son and daughter, so he hears us having a conversation in English. Finally, I saw a little water puddle off the curb and I say to him "il y a de l'eau pour tes chaussures." He looks up at me startled and says in a very articulated and slow way "I speak French." In French, I said, "I know, there is water for your shoes there." He went over to the water. Just yesterday my French teacher was again complimenting my progress with the language. Guess this little boy didn't think my French was too good.

Then I went to an art show. I'm speaking French to a German woman and a French woman comes up and asks why I don't join her French conversation class to improve my French. My confidence is really heading down at this point. I want to stop speaking French, but plough on. If you can believe it, another French woman joins the conversation and says my French is pretty good, but if I take her class my French would really improve. Is this a joke? Then the first lady says "are you trying to take my clients away from me?" I excuse myself from the group. I can only take so much!

-- said Auntie M in Paris
6:44 PM



Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pere Lachaise revisited

Sammy always teases me that I love being a tourist here in Paris. Today I really felt I was a tourist. My French friend had a death in the family and she was going to the funeral today. After that, she was heading to Pere Lachaise, where her uncle would be buried. She had to take out a map to look up the location of Pere Lachaise. She told me it's been nearly 20 years since she'd been there.

I've been to Pere Lachaise twice in the last 5 years and I have no family or friends buried there. She actually has a family plot there. Here a real Parisian hasn't been there for years and I've been there twice. Yep. I'm a real tourist.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:22 PM



Golf Girl

Last year ago, I signed my daughter up for dance lessons with her best friend. She went twice and then refused to go. All her friends took dance but she'd have no part of it. In fact, there is really nothing she has asked to do after school except for golf.

Today she took a golf lesson. I had to stay near her through the lesson, (surprise) but here she is trying to master a swing, while looking at the ball and then the final toe point at follow-through. She was so happy to be taking a class after so many years of watching her brother and his friend. I mean she was really happy -- laughing and giggling and she was never frustrated when she missed the ball.

So I won't have a ballerina... maybe a golfer instead.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:27 PM



Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Busy Day

Yesterday was an interesting day. I had coffee with a friend and then went back home to pick up my father. He wanted to go grocery shopping to buy everything we needed to make a birthday dinner that night for his wife.

After shopping, we headed straight for the school to pick up my daughter. My daughter had a field trip planned for yesterday and all the previous week she'd been crying about it and working herself up because she didn't want to go without me. She made me ask her teacher if I could go. The teacher said 'no.' She woke up yesterday asking if this was the day of the trip and when I told her it was, she started crying and saying she didn't want to go. We were supposed to get back to school 15 minutes early for the trip, but we were a couple of minutes late. We arrived at school as the kids were climbing on to the bus and I literally handed her straight to another mother who was going on the trip and that was it. I waved to her from the street and she seemed fine. No crying. When I asked the monitor mothers how she was on the trip they all reported she was fine, no crying. I tell you, this parenting thing is really tough to figure out. In the end, I am glad she went on the trip without me -- for both of us.

Her trip was to the Tuileries Garden. She learned how to plant flowers. I didn't get a lot of details other than the gardening teacher's name was Laurent and that you use a spade not a shovel to plant flowers. She seemed to have a good time.

After I dropped off my daughter at lunch time I was able to head over to a going away party for a friend who is moving to Amsterdam. I only stayed a short time and I realized, I never stay for these kinds of parties... where the women all dress up and bring expensive gifts. These parties seem to happen montly... a shower, a going away party, a birthday party and I feel very uncomfortable. I like all the women, but I hate dressing up and buying expensive gifts and as a result I really, really feel out of place... even though all the women are very nice and I enjoy talking to them. It's just me. Forgive me for talking so long about this, but it was a realization for me yesterday because I was really wondering what was wrong with me and why I never stay long at these parties.

After the party I rushed off to a friend's house. He was hosting a cooking demonstration for chicken gumbo. Unfortunately, I missed the demonstration, but I was in time to eat some delicious gumbo and drink some chilled white wine. I must learn how to make gumbo.

When I brought the kids to the park after school the boys were playing soccer in their usual place... the strip of grass on the side of the park. Yesterday was different. A guard was there and told the boys to get off the grass. We (me and the babysitters of the other boys) see this happening and see the boys all point over to our bench. Here comes the guard and he isn't happy. He asks if we are responsible for the boys and that it's forbidden for the boys to play on the grass. So I ask him if it is a park for children and he says yes, but not that part of the park. That part is "interdit to the children." He asks if I understand and I say "No, je ne comprends pas, c'est fou!" No, I don't understand, that is crazy. So he threatens me that the next time he sees the boys play there, I will receive a ticket that will cost me money. The other women and I ponder if this is a true possibility. L'Amerloque, is it?

So the boys play near the street and when we walk past the guard later he tries to explain himself. There are flower patches here and that is why the boys can't play on the grass. I tell him we don't need flower patches at a kid's park. He laughs and says I should send a petition to the Mairie/Town Hall and start a revolution. Ah, the French sense of humor.

This brings me to a point (thank goodness, I know) about cultural differences that I still haven't mastered. This past example... where there is nothing written stating that running on the grass is forbidden...the guard came over to yell at us. I often feel like I'm being punished in France for things I don't know I'm not supposed to do. Last time something like this happened the guard told me that although there is no sign, the guard is there because he knows what conduct is forbidden and that is why I should listen to him. A sign here and there could really help, I think. In the US, if there is no sign and a guard has to tell you something, I think generally, he will do so apologetically... I know there is no sign, but we are trying to grow the grass here or there is a hole over there that is dangerous or whatever, but he would explain why something couldn't be used. Here it is this flat out "it's forbidden, don't ask questions" kind of thing. I'm not sure I'll ever get used to that.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:29 AM



Monday, April 18, 2005

Lance Armstrong to Quit le Tour

Lance Armstrong announced today that he will retire from racing. This is a little sad for our family. A highlight of every summer that we have lived in France has been watching the Tour de France -- both somewhere out in the campagne and when it finishes in Paris. Last year, for example, we were fortunate enough to see it as it passed by my sister's front door and then come back to Paris for Lance's record-breaking 6th win. Of course our interest has been nurtured by Lance's victories (although we weren't part of the hordes wrapped in American flags.) But le tour will continue and so will our fascination with this amazing sport.

At least we have one last time to cheer Lance on. Of course since he is racing for the Discovery Channel, we won't be able to cheer him along with a rousing *ahem* "Go Postal!"

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:43 PM



Sunday, April 17, 2005


We wanted to take a day trip somewhere with my father and his wife today. We ended up driving out to Chantilly, about 20 miles north of Paris. We drove straight to town and got a wonderful quick crepe lunch. Then we drove back to the Chateau.

We've been to Chantilly a few times. It's easy to get to and has a beautiful chateau, an impressive art museum, grand park grounds and many things to entertain children.

My father and his wife checked out the Conde Museum, located in the Chateau. This museum has the largest collection of historical paintings in France, after the Louvre. While they were looking at the art, we headed to a rock climbing area. We'd been there before when the kids were much younger. They were much more confident climbing this time around. Here is my son on top waving.

After some time, we all walked over to the children's playground. To get there you have to walk through Le Hameau area. These are cottages that were built by the Prince de Conde so he could host country-style dinners and late suppers. These hamlets were what inspired Marie Antoinette to build her own Hameau in Versailles. There are lots of things for the kids to explore in this area... canals, waterfalls, and a mini-labyrinth. My daughter remembered the "maze" from her last trip here and asked to try it again. She must have been impressed to remember it from two years ago -- when she was three.

I've just told you what we did today. There is so much more! There are electric boats to rent. The boats cruise on the Grand Canal, designed by Le Notre. There is a mini train to enable you to see much more of the nearly 285 acre estate. A kangaroo park is located at one end of the park. In the warm weather there are horse drawn carriages.

Additionally, if all this doesn't interest you, head a little ways down the road from the Chateau to the Living Museum of the Horse. I've actually never gone inside this building, but it's just beautiful on the outside.

Don't you agree?

* Update. Considering my mother-in-law is a lacemaker, I forgot to mention that Chantilly France is also know for lace (and whipped cream, I might add)! There are many examples of the black Chantilly lace in the Conde Museum. In downtown Chantilly, there is a lace museum.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:21 PM



Saturday, April 16, 2005


Well it had been a while since we'd had visitors. Now we've had quite a few. Nine people slept over in my apartment last night and believe me, the place isn't that big! The second batch of family left today... my sister, her husband and daughter. Now my father and his wife are here for a few days.

Today was my son's birthday party. We had the fete at the Jardin D'Acclimatation and everyone took golf lessons. Some of the parents were so excited that their child would be taking a golf lesson and I have to say all the kids really enjoyed themselves. After the golf lesson, where they mostly learned how to hit the ball properly, the kids were sent into the field to retrieve the balls. It was like a big Easter Egg hunt and they all ran to find the most "eggs." My father joked that it was free labor... but they had so much fun!

I invited all the boys from my son's class.. 10 boys (and two girls from class). They are good kids and they all get along... but because they get along it's like a big family where each person tries to get a word in or tries to get enough of the candy or cake. There is a lot of yelling, grabbing, pushing and it was very difficult to keep any order. I. am. very. tired.

The party started at 1pm. The last guest left at 6pm. I rushed home to make a simple pasta dinner. It tasted so good. That's what I call comfort food.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:09 PM



Friday, April 15, 2005

La Fontaine de Mars

My sister and her family leave town tomorrow. My father and his wife arrived back in town today. So for our last night together (my France sister couldn't make it) we decided to celebrate another April birthday (there are four in my family) tonight with a dinner out.

My sister and I reviewed the Zagat's recommendations. They break their restaurant listings into all sorts of categories. We focused on the child friendly restaurants and ended up picking La Fontaine de Mars in the 7th. I can't remember the last time (ever?) my two children have been to a proper French restaurant.

There were nine of us in the group. When my husband and I looked over the menu, we realized that there was absolutely nothing that our children would happily eat on the menu. I actually told the waitress that the kids wouldn't be eating anything... they had no pasta, ham or french fries. She suggested a plain chicken (not on the menu) with some sauteed potatoes. Maybe that is why Zagat's rated this place as child friendly... maybe it really is more child accommodating.

The menu was traditional French and the food was good... everyone agreed, and believe me, that is saying a lot with my family. I had the sole meuniere and it was basic and good. My sister had the cassoulet and it was delicious. On the way out I bumped into a walking tour buddy who was out with friends. She said she comes to this restaurant all the time and always has a good meal.

The dessert menu... I had the sable/short cake with baked apples and a scoop of green apple ice cream. My husband and I ate it up.

After dessert, I rushed home with the tired children... it was after 10pm. My husband and brother-in-law walked home from the restaurant, through the Champs de Mars. They said is was a lovely night for a walk -- and they even saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:44 PM



Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Country in Paris

Today there was a walking tour of La Campagne a Paris. La Campagne a Paris actually is a subdivision in the 20th arrondissement outside of the metro Bagnolet. We exited at Place Edith Piaf, where a statue of the famous singer stands, barefoot on the pavement surrounded by a little green gate. Apparently, she didn't live in the area, but her songs were about this part of "old" Paris.

The earth underneath Paris is composed mostly of gypsum and sand - which are useful as building materials. When the quarry materials were used up the quarries were either turned into parks by Baron Haussmann or they were used as dumps for the material extracted from the building of the metro tunnels. One such dump, is the residential area called La Campagne a Paris, named because all of the 89 houses are single-family dwellings, and each has a small garden in front and a larger garden in the rear. It's an example of a successful housing project in Paris, where aesthetics and the environment were given careful thought. The progressives in France thought La Campagne a Paris was what worker's housing should be like: low cost, lots and houses about the same size, and lots of greenery and flowers.

A house on rue Paul Strauss.

The houses are located on streets named after La Campagne's three major supporters: Paul Strauss, Irenee Blanc and Jules Siegfried. The houses were completed in the mid 1920s and provide an architectural and social statement, drawing our attention to brick, slates, and millstones (used to build homes for the poor in the past, now very fashionable) facades -- all with charming, but tiny gardens. When you are standing in La Campagne neighborhood, you really feel like you've left the city behind.

The houses are very charming with lots of special touches, like this glass awning.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:10 PM



Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Crazy 8

Today is my son's 8th birthday. We invited his friends (and his cousin) to join us at the Jardin D'Acclimatation. We fit 8 people into my car, but everyone behaved because they all wanted to go to the Jardin for the day.

For his birthday present, he has been asking for a junior set of golf clubs. So today he picked out a set that the golf school sold. The school held a golf "test" today and my son was graded on all the skills... putting, driving etc . He was thrilled to used his new clubs for the test.

My son and his best friend got a silver golf ball pin. Since he earned a bronze ball pin last year, he was happy. Maybe they have these kinds of grades in the US, but it seems a little weird to be grading 6, 7, or 8 year olds on their golf swing.

After going on many rides and meeting my son after he was finished with the golf test, we all piled into the car again and headed home. The kids were playing around after dinner and all of the sudden, my son comes running into the room.... he's lost a tooth! This tooth was literally sticking out of his mouth, ready to come out, but hanging on for the last month. We were so glad to see it out. My son asked if... after hanging out with friends, getting his silver ball pin and having his tooth fall out... "is this my lucky day?" Yes, I suppose it is.


-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:41 AM



Tuesday, April 12, 2005


One of the quotes I heard a lot when I arrived France was....
"How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?"
by Charles de Gaulle.

There are so many wonderful cheeses in France. When I first moved here I bought the French Cheese book and checked off every new cheese I tried. I gave up the day I brought home a Tomme cheese and went to check it off the list. I found that the book listed something like 38 variations of this one cheese alone! By now, I have my favorite cheeses (comte, cantal, chevre crottin and port salut) and try to have something new every once in a while.

Like wine, French cheese is protected by AOC laws (appellation d'origine controllee). This law allows only certain limited quantities of a particular cheese to be produced in order to prevent mass production ruining the subtle variations in regional French cheeses.

While my family was in town, I wanted a French friend of mine to meet them. A few weeks ago, we decided she would come over for a little cheese and wine. I thought this was a great idea until I started thinking about the details.... where to buy the cheese, which wine to buy and what type of bread to serve. I know they may sound like trivial concerns, and of course, they are, but I wanted to make sure I didn't make a fool of myself. I've never had this friend over for a "meal" before.

We decided on the wine first. Because my sister loves Roquefort, I asked for a wine that goes well with that kind of cheese. We went to Nicholas, the chain wine store, and the wine guy recommended a Sancerre. We also bought a Bordeaux.

Then we walked to Androuet. My French friends have recommended that I buy my cheese at Androuet. There are three stores in Paris and one is not too far from my home. My sister, the cheese addict, picked out the cheeses. She made some lovely choices and had way too much fun. The cheese man let us have samples to determine which ones we wanted to buy. She bought some Carles Roquefort, Comte, Gouda (aged three years and impossible to cut), Poivre Brie, Ste. Maure Chevre, Rocamadour, Trappe d'Echourgnac, and Neufchatel Coeur. It was a delicious selection.

I think my sister bought a piece of every cheese in this picture.

Finally, we bought some baguettes and some Poilane bread to eat with the cheese.

My friend came over and we had a very nice time trying the cheese and wine. After she left we had some more cheese and decided that was enough of a meal.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:39 PM



Guest Blogging

I'm a guest blogger today! Expat Mama was kind enough to invite me over to her place and give my opinion about a book, Perfect Madness, regarding the culture of motherhood in the US and France. Check it out!

-- said Auntie M in Paris
7:57 AM



Monday, April 11, 2005

Crazy Horse

As we were finishing dinner last night, one of the men starting talking about the Crazy Horse. I'm not sure who mentioned it first, but the idea spread. The men decided they all wanted to see a show after the dinner. The cruise boat staff got the number for Crazy Horse and reservations were made for the show that night.

Five out of the seven men ended up going to the show (my brother-in-law from the south of France had to get up early and my son was deemed too young -- but he resented having to stay with the women! Why couldn't he see the horses?!).

The general verdict was that the show was fun enough. There were 17 skits in about 75 minutes. My nephews (20, 22) had a lot of fun with the topless women. One nephew was convinced that a dancer was winking at his brother. The older guys thought it wasn't quite the "spectacular spectacle" that they were expecting. After seeing shows at the Lido and Moulin Rouge and now listening to a review of the Crazy Horse, I think that the Lido might have the best spectacle around.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
8:10 PM



Sunday, April 10, 2005

Seine Cruise

I've been planning the birthday party for my sister for a couple of months. Although we have a week of fun activities planned, today was the special day when the whole family would be in town to celebrate her birthday. What did we do? My brother-in-law rented a Yachts de Paris boat and our family took a private dinner cruise on the Seine river.

We all met at the boat. Our cruise started at 5pm because we had to deal with lots of jet lag, and to be honest, we are Americans and eating early doesn't bother us. When I asked the woman if we could rent the boat at 5pm (dinner at 6pm) she asked "won't you be hungry later on?" But it was perfect. The weather wasn't too cold. We took the cruise and had plenty of light for all the pictures we wanted to take. The food was really good. There were 14 of us for dinner.

The cruise just felt really special, and I wasn't even the birthday girl! It hit me when my father was impressed with the whole event. The kids loved the cruise and we got to enjoy a good meal with unbelievable views. It was a wonderful evening and a perfect way for the whole family to celebrate.

It was the very first time all my family has been together.... my two sisters and their families and my father and his wife and I'm glad to report we all got along and there was no screaming involved (don't ask about the last time!) Tomorrow our group heads their separate ways.... my father heads down with my French sister to the south and my nephews head back to the US. That leaves me and my birthday sister and our families to get in trouble this week!

The view as we pulled in to dock.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
10:56 PM



Saturday, April 09, 2005


For the past few months I've been planning a surprise. Over that time period, I realized, it's really tough to keep a big secret from a family member. It's especially difficult because it was my sister and I speak to her often. But now the secret is out. Phew.

My father and his wife arrived in Paris on Thursday morning. The first visitor to arrive this morning was my brother-in-law from Japan. He arrived at my door at 5:08am. A couple of hours later my sister and her daughter arrived from Connecticut. My oldest nephew arrived from Washington, D.C. and his brother arrived from North Carolina. It felt a bit like Grand Central Station, and I wasn't even around. I worried from afar.

Today was also the MESSAGE mother group bring and buy sale. My brother-in-law -- the first to arrive -- came with me to sell about 40 items that my children no longer needed. Did you ever notice how the smallest children have the biggest toys? It felt good to get some of these big items out of my apartment. I even got a chance to see a favorite commenter, Oz, again. I spent about 5 hours at the Bring and Buy, made a little money and got to hang with my brother-in-law. I also finally got to try a popular American caterer, Tracy. She made lunches for the sellers today.

We returned home to find my sister, her husband and daughter. The rest of a group was staying at a hotel and were coming over for dinner. There were worries -- would my little one blab, did she hear my son talking about the hotel, did my husband clean up well enough from my father being at our apartment. So, how fun it was to see her surprise, that her whole family came over to celebrate her milestone birthday. A week of fun is planned.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:42 PM



Friday, April 08, 2005

Booked in France

A while ago someone asked me if I had a list of books about France that I would recommend. Well, here are most of the books about France that I have read while here. Mainly, I've listed the basic living books, not others like the Marie Antoinette biography that I really enjoyed.

Please feel free to leave a comment if you agree or disagree with my assessment of a particular book. Also, if you think I've left some basic book about life in France off this list, let me know. Finally, if you have a recommendation about a book on France, pass it on, I'm always looking for a good read.

French Cheeses. This is a really great book to look up all the cheeses that are available in France.

Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, Don Kladstrup, Petie Kladstrup. This is one of my favorite books. It's part history and part good story about how the French hid their national treasure (wine, champagne) during WWII.

Hachette Guide To French Wines 2005: The Definitive Guide To Over 9,000 of the Best Wines in France, Hachette. It's always handy to have a guide on wine... which years you should buy...

French: The Secrets of Classic Cooking Made Easy, Carole Clements. BUY THIS BOOK! This is my French cookbook bible. There is a picture of every recipe and the recipes are easy to follow. This is the every day person's French cookbook.

Paris Sweets : Great Desserts From the City's Best Pastry Shops, Dorie Greenspan. I haven't bought this book, but I think Dorie is wonderful and if I ever do buy a dessert book, this would be the one.

Food Lover's Guide to Paris, 4th edition, Patricia Wells. I don't care much for Patricia Wells cookbooks, but I do like this handy reference guide. If you just plan to visit France and enjoy some good food places, e.g., wine bars and tea salons, this is a great book.

Paris Then & Now (Then and Now International Series), Peter and Oriel Caine. I've written about how much I like Peter Caine. This book is a favorite present for those who love Paris.

Around and About Paris, Volume 3: New Horizons: Haussmann's Annexation (Arrondissements 13 - 20) , Thirza Vallois. Thirza has done a lot of research for this series of books on the arrondissements.

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier , Thad Carhart. A very pleasant book about a man, his love of pianos, and his friendship with a Frenchman.

Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French, Jean-Benoit Nadeau, Julie Barlow. A bit too serious for me, but so many people loved this book. Written by two Canadians journalists, it has lots of information and many insights about France. Best of the genre.

Le Divorce. Diane Johnson. This book is all story, but provides many insights into cultural differences.

Le Bus : RĂ©pertoire des 310 lignes Paris-Banlieue, toutes les stations, les correspondences. The bus is my favorite transportation in Paris. If you want to see more of the city as you are going from one museum to the next, buy this book to figure out the many bus routes.

Plan de ville : Paris par arrondissements, Plans Ponchet. This is one of the books that you'd see a Parisian carry around. Very detailed maps of Paris. Parisians out of their "quartier" are tourists. You can feel like you belong having this in your hands as opposed to a "Let's Go Paris" guide.

Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik. Mixed reviews on this book, but another opportunity to learn more about living in Paris. It came out just as I moved here and it influenced my view of the city. I now have my own opinions and so I don't fully agree with it. Plus I've read a number of first person accounts of France like Nicholas DelBanco's annoying "Running in Place" and have tired of the author as unwitting hero formula.

The Josephine Bonaparte Collection: The Many Lives and Secret, Sorrows of Josephine B., Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe, and The Last Great Dance on Earth, Sandra Gulland. Most women I have met in Paris have read this trilogy. It's historical fiction about Josephine Bonaparte. The story telling is great and for me, at least, it got me very interested in reading more about French history.

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris. Honestly, I haven't read this book. My husband read it when we first arrived and laughed all the way through. Since I rarely read the same books my husband reads... I just lost interest in it. However, many people have read this book and really enjoyed it.

Zagats. Even if you come for a long weekend, it is worth buying this book. Why get a mediocre meal in France, when there are plenty of places that are reasonably priced with delicious food? This book will help you make the right choices.

Almost French, Sarah Turnbull. I didn't care much for this book because she seemed to whine and bitch a lot, but so many others have enjoyed it. I think, once again, it had some insights into the cultural differences but I just couldn't get past the fine whine.

A Year in the Merde, Stephen Clarke. I'm reading this book right now. He's a twenty something that lived in Paris for a year working at a French company and has a lot of attitude about the experience. His sexual escapades dominate the story, but there are, once again, insights into cultural differences that make it interesting but the sophmoric behavior is grating.

Paris with Kids, Fodor's. This is a great book if you are coming to Paris with kids. There are plenty of ideas of places to go that will hold the interest of your children.

Monuments That Tell Stories of Paris, Jean Daly. This is a beautiful Paris guide for children of the main monuments. I've bought this book a dozen times to bring back to the children of friends in the US.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:20 PM



Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Birthday Party of the Rich

My daughter had another birthday party today. I was a bit apprehensive as I approached the building. It was smack in the middle of a number of Embassies. I can only imagine the real estate costs here.

I enter the building and am told by another mother dropping off a classmate that even though she'd hold the door open, I must wait for the host to buzz up the elevator. To get up to the top three floors, you must have a key or the host needs to "call" the elevator once you are inside.

I've been going to the school for many years and am there often -- usually four times a day to drop the kids off, pick up my daughter for lunch and then drop her off and then pick up both kids at the end of school. I had NEVER seen this mother before. I told her that I was very sorry, but I had to stay at the party with my daughter (my son was at a friend's house). She asked if that was really necessary, and right on cue, my daughter started crying at the prospect of me leaving. So the host let me stay.

For all the money this woman clearly had, it didn't buy any manners. She did not offer me a drink, a common courtesy (it's not like I thought she'd get it for me herself). I know it's not ideal to have this mother hanging around (although she didn't see me much because the mother hung out with a friend in the kitchen and the hired help stayed with me at the party), but really, she could have been a little welcoming.

I sat on a nearby couch and read a book and sometimes looked around at the apartment. It was separated into four floors (the private interior staircase and elevator were just off the living room where the party was held. Everything was perfectly placed with a minimalist look in the living room. The mother came out for the cake cutting and took pictures. She promptly left again.

This particular clown/princess/animator company ran a number of games at the party, which is not usual. I couldn't believe two kids, including the party boy, had to pick teams. There was a girl captain and a boy captain. My daughter was the first girl pick for the birthday boy and she was happy about that. However, one petite, shy little girl was the last to get picked. I felt bad for her! It truly was a popularity contest.

At the end, the animator put the birthday boy on some mahogany chest while the children sat on the couch waiting to give their gifts. After most of the gifts were open, the mother came out and nearly had a fit that her son was sitting on some priceless piece of furniture. She shouts for the hired help to get a proper chair and starts brushing off the cabinet looking for scratches. I guess even the rich have their worries....

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:10 PM



Tuesday, April 05, 2005

In Training

Ah... life in the 16th arrondissement. I had to suppress a laugh the other day when I saw this little girl. She is dressed in a perfect Parisian blue coat with matching blue "mary jane" shoes. On the handle of her doll stroller? That would be a Hermes shopping bag. Why wait until you understand that credit cards exist... start them young.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:28 PM



Monday, April 04, 2005

Jardin Ranelagh

On Sunday I hosted a brunch. I do not think I have had a brunch since I moved to France five years ago. Brunch is not very popular here. But I love brunch. You can pretty much offer whatever you want. I made a cake, quiche and a strata, and my sister brought some French specialties: macaroons and canele.

The invitees? There were some family friends from Brazil who were in town for a couple of days. The husband spoke French and the wife spoke English. It made for interesting table conversations. I also invited cousin Janet and her daughter. It was a nice group of people and it was very special for me. As I have mentioned, my mother died 15 years ago. Her only sibling, an older brother, died a couple of weeks ago and it felt like I lost my last ties with my mother. So it was really nice to have a cousin and friends of my mother in my home.

After the brunch, and the family friends left, Janet and I headed with our girls (my son was at another birthday party) to the Jardin du Ranelagh. It is a big park in my neighborhood and the perfect place to hang out on a sunny Sunday. People bring picnic lunches and then lay down on towels to enjoy the sun.

If you have read the book by Adam Gopnick, From Paris to the Moon, he writes about the carousel at Luxembourg Garden. The same kind of carousel is located in Ranelagh, where there are large hooks and the manager takes the old wooden horses out of storage every day and hangs them each on a hook. He walks the carousel around. It is completely manually operated. In the middle left of the picture you can see a green board. From that board metal rings hang down and children, who are each given a stake, try to put the stake through the ring to collect as many rings as possible. Believe me the kids get very competitive!

-- said Auntie M in Paris
1:19 PM



Sunday, April 03, 2005

Family Ties

I don't have a large family and we don't really keep in touch with the few relatives we have outside of our immediate family. My sister is changing that. A few years ago she started working on our genealogy and recently she has been in touch with our cousins to get more information about our ancestors. One cousin she was talking to recently told her our second cousin was coming to Paris. So my sister contacted this cousin Janet and told her we'd like to get together.

I met Janet and her 8-year old daughter this Saturday. We got together and brought our daughters to the Jardin D'Acclimatation (my son was at a friend's house). The third cousins really enjoyed playing with each other. Here are the two of them using the remote control boats at the Jardin.

After the Jardin, both of my kids had a birthday party to attend. As usual, my daughter required me to stay with her at the party. I really don't know what to make of this. She actually gets unhappy if I leave the room. At one point she cried when I left to get a drink in the kitchen. The host, a good friend, was a bit offended.... "doesn't she feel comfortable in my home?" What do I say? Although she has a lot of strong traits (stubbornness and determination are on top of the list) she just doesn't like to be without me (with the exception of school). At least she is making progress... going to a friend's house for lunch a few times a month.

After the birthday parties, my husband and I headed out for a dinner. Some acquaintances invited us over with 4 other couples. For three of the couples, one spouse was American. One couple was French. We were the only American couple. The host greeted me with three-kisses. I've never had the three-kiss greet, so it took me by surprise. According to the map that Glacons found and photoshopped, I guess many people kiss four times in Paris... I haven't found that, but maybe I don't know the right Parisiens! Looking at the map, he is from the southwest -- smack in the middle of three kiss country.

We ended up sitting next to a interesting couple at the dinner... an opera singer and a commodities trader. When we lived in Washington, DC, all of our friends were people who worked in the same field as we did. It's such a pleasure to meet people from different walks of life... professions I've never even thought about.... from countries I never really thought about.

The guy sitting next to me was born in Tripoli, Libya, and moved to Rome when he was 1. His mother is French. His father is Jewish, Italian, and emigrated from Israel. His father moved to an Italian colony in Libya, but he never obtained Libyan citizenship. My dinner companion has lived in France for 20 years. He is trilingual.... I thought he was American when I first spoke to him. I asked him what he told people when asked what nationality he was... basically, he has no simple answer. I lived in the same home for the first 16 years of my life. His life story was fascinating to me.

Happy Birthday to my sister in the US!

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:10 PM



Saturday, April 02, 2005

Passy Walk

We had a tour of the Passy area yesterday. It's my neighborhood so I wasn't too excited. Don't I already know everything there is to know about the area where I live?

But once again I was surprised by all the information I learned yesterday and smug with the information I already knew. We started at the Eiffel Tower and from there headed into the Passy cemetery -- a huge presence in my neighborhood, but a place I've never visited. I was really glad to have a reason to check out this big walled off mysterious place that I often pass (the walls around the cemetary are very high). We talked about a couple of the famous residents and then walked past the Benjamin Franklin statue. In December 1776, Franklin arrived in France to represent the Revolutionary American government at the French court, America's ally in its war of independence. He was very popular because he had taken the time to learn the French language and French manners. He was also something of a celebrity because of his famous lightning experiment. There is actually a chiseled lightening rod on the building that stands at the place where Franklin lived in Passy.

While talking about the French - American relationship, our guide mentioned the Statue of Liberty. Apparently, the statue in US faces toward France. The replica here, on the Isle de Seine, faces toward the US.

Finally, we walked through a part of Trocadero park. My children often play here. When we leave the park, we always pass by this rustic looking rock stairwell. I found out that this walk was created for the 1937 World's Fair and is one of the few remaining things that still exist from that event. The statue in front is Francois Joseph Paul Compte de Grasse, who fought with Lafayettte at Yorktown.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
8:44 PM



Friday, April 01, 2005


I finally got around to the new Matisse exhibit at the Musee du Luxembourg. This exhibit apparently focuses on his "second life." When I asked the meaning of his "second life," I was told that it probably had to do with the fact that Matisse had a near death experience around that time. The exhibit focuses on Matisse's work from the 1940's until his death in 1954.

First, let me say I really enjoyed the exhibit. There are four rooms with various works of art. You start the exhibit with some information about Matisse and his friend Andre Rouveyre. They corresponded a lot over the years and throughout the exhibit you can read letters they wrote to one another and look at the envelopes the letters were sent in, which are also works of art(they'd probably be thrown out by the postal office in this day and age).

In the second room, there is a magnificent tapestry, Polynesia, by Gobelins that Matisee designed. There are also illustrations for a book of poems by Charles D'Orleans. These are aspects of Matisse's work I was not familiar with previously. Then in the last two rooms there were the works of art I am more acquainted with..... cut outs like the Jazz works of art (20 framed pictures that cover one wall with the most beautiful colors and images) and the Tree of Life, and La Gerbe. There are also a number of paintings on display, including the Interior Yellow and Blue.

The Matisse exhibit is 10 euros per adult, but well worth the price to see this eclectic mix of his works of art. The show will be at Musee du Luxembourg until July 17. I went on a weekday at an off-hour and the exhibit was still packed with people. I wouldn't recommend trying this exhibit on a weekend unless you had no other choice.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
6:51 PM




Emile Antoine Bourdelle (1861 - 1929) was Rodin's main assistant from 1893 to 1980. According to one biography, Bourdelle
sought to restore monumentality to sculpture through an eclectic borrowing from both ancient Greek and medieval sculpture. Concerned with the public function of sculpture, Bourdelle reintroduced sculpture to its traditional outdoor and architectural settings.
I couldn't have said it better.

Yesterday I had a walking tour of the Bourdelle Museum. I'd never heard of Bourdelle before, but his work has made a lasting impression on me. I was almost overwhelmed by his sculptures. They were large and beautiful... with so much left to be figured out. As the quote above states, he used a lot from Greek mythology in his works.

There is Penelope, the woman who waits for Ulysses. She is larger than life with a flowing Greek robe, her right arm around her stomach (to protect her from all the suitors while her husband is away for so long) while her left arm is bent up with her chin on her fist (showing she is waiting for her husband to return).

There are thousands of pieces of Bourdelle's works in this museum, which also houses Bourdelle's home and studio. There is so much to see inside the museum, but there is also an enchanting sculpture garden... probably a wonderful place to walk around on a sunny day.

If you like sculpture, especially larger than life sculpture, this museum is for you. Most of the people in our group were very impressed by Bourdelle's work.

Since it is a city of Paris museum, entry is usually free. However, there is currently a special exhibit of Claude Rutault's work and admission is charged. If you don't care for Mr Rutault's modern work (think white painted canvases placed on the floor or sacks placed over sculptures and you have an idea of his "art"), then wait until after May 15 to visit the Bourdelle museum.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
9:48 AM