Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Most Highly Rated Pizza in Paris

For two days, we had planned a bike ride to Julia's Pizza, the most highly rated pizza restaurant in Paris. We expected a large, sit down restaurant to accommodate the hoards of people wanting a delicious pizza. What we found instead was a teeny tiny takeout or squeeze in and eat-if-you-dare, pizza counter. 

We were a little stumped when we saw the sign and peeked inside. This was the best pizza in Paris? How could this be? 

We were warmly welcomed by a happy pizza baker and a kind cashier, who worked less than a foot from each other. We ordered our pizzas and were offered a free drink. When are drinks ever free? 

As we waited, we caught on how the pizza place could be so successful--take out! A stack of waiting boxes waited for their customers, and they moved in and out as we waited. It was raining and we were quite a distance from our apartment--our only choice was to squeeze in and enjoy. It made for good conversation with the pizza baker and the cashier.

"Are you Julia?" I asked the beautiful woman.

"She is my daughter."

So the cashier and the baker were the owners and the parents of the restaurant's namesake.

After two delicious pizzas and surface conversation, Tony asked the inevitable, Why didn't they have a bigger place? Certainly with the honor of best pizza in Paris, they could afford to expand.

Ahhh, but they'd already had the big place, the big success, the big headaches. They had chosen the simple life. Make and sell pizzas, make time for family and fun. 

Perhaps Julia's Pizza was voted the best in Paris because a customer's money buys more than dinner; it buys an unexpected lesson: slow down, be simple, be happy.

As we bike home that night, the rain has stopped, the night is cool.

"I love happy people."

"I love happy people too."




Room enough for happiness


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Never Wear Tight Pants To Climb the Eiffel Tower**

Tight pants.

It was inevitable.

How silly I was to assume after all the biking and walking, I could slather my baguette with butter, eat butter infused croissants for breakfast (and snacks), eat souffles and pastries at every whim. How silly to act like I had the metabolism of a twenty year old.

If only the butter wasn't so incredible. The label reads Buerre Gastronomique. Translation: Fancy butter. If only the two boulangeries in such close proximity to our apartment hadn't each been awarded "BEST BAGUETTE of PARIS in alternating years since 1292---before Columbus sailed for America.

Even though the mainstay of my meals has been vegetables (after the baguette and butter), they have mostly been cooked in a warm bubbly bed of butter. One afternoon, while walking to a patisserie, we stopped at the window that opens to a restaurant's working kitchen. The chefs were already preparing the delicacies for the evening menu. I watched as a chef unrolled a giant log wrapped in white paper. Some log it was--it was a butter log big enough to put in a two story, Yellowstone cabin for 30 guests, and it would burn a blazing hot fire the entire night.

The chef proceeded to cut the log into chunks the size of Christmas hams. She placed each butter ham in a pan that in my house would only get a squirt of PAM.

What a conundrum to be in: I know it's making me fat; I know it won't last forever. Carpe Diem the butter!

When I get home, I'll be going to butter addiction rehab.

**Why was it a mistake to wear tight pants to climb the Eiffel? Every step, every upward thigh shift, I was reminded my pants had gotten tighter--700 steps, 700 reminders.

***Ah ha! I just learned why French butter is soooo delicious. American butter is 80 % percent whereas, French butter is 85-87% fat.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Paris Citizens Fight Back

Tony and I are leaving the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower. We pass a Parisian man who is speaking to a small group of people. When we are right next to him, he raises his voice, his arm and yells, "Degage, degage." It's forceful, strong and cruel. He intentionally uses the informal which appears to be a further insult. I turn to see to whom he might be addressing. Three women, dressed in the way of the gypsy, are crossing the street, but they turn and slink away, obeying his command instantly.

It was a remarkable moment of power and subservience to that power.

The incident was a repeat of what Tony had witnessed two days earlier. On his morning pastry run, he came upon two women, one who appeared to be doing the talking. A Parisian man approached the women, yelling the same words we heard at the park, "Degagez." He also accused the woman by yelling, "Pickpocket, pickpocket." The accused woman retreated.

In 2015, workers at the Eiffel Tower went on strike to protest the increase in organized gangs of pickpockets. Workers at the Louvre did the same in 2013. They too had noticed more organized theft that had begun to include children. The strike brought increased security to both Parisian landmarks, both of which are critical to tourist revenue.

Reflecting on the incident, we realize we haven't seen any of the typical scams we've seen in the past. We haven't been approached, no one's asked us if we've lost a ring, no one has asked us to sign a petition and then donate money. When people band together and fight back, it's a powerful thing.

It appears that Parisian citizens are fighting back to protect the tourist industry. Maybe the scammers, the pickpockets will leave; perhaps they have all gone to Greece and Italy--where I recently witnessed their latest ploy.

In the company of 60 teenagers, I saw multiple times, a scammer who gave the student a gift: a rose. The unsuspecting (not for long) student takes the gift, and when he doesn't pay, the kind giver becomes belligerent.

Stealing for a living is hard work. Keeping that living might be even harder--except when we work together.






Monday, June 27, 2016

Couples

Perhaps it is because I am reading Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose, a novel about marriage in which the author only realizes on page 211 that his protagonist is writing a novel about marriage; perhaps it is that I've entered my third decade of marriage; or even that all my daughters are now married. Whatever the reasons, one of the recurring themes in my Louvre study of art is: couples.

Or is it that a marriage done well, is a piece of art?

Before the theme of couples emerged, I was struck by the individuality of this stunning piece.
It woke me up. It was an anomaly among ages of homogenous pieces. It showed a process, a procession, that death wasn't a solitary experience. A life was extravagantly noted. The hooded figures were macabre, yet reverent. That I could stand next to life size figures carrying Philippe Pot, Grand Senechal de Bourgogne, who lived and died in the late fifteenth century, was amazing.

In contrast to the processional mourning of this one man's life, I started noticing that all death markers were not solitary.

Meet Louie and Robine who died in 1521 and 1520, respectively. They were the first couple I came upon. Louis' notoriety came from serving as a financial officer under the reign of Charles VIII. A pious and wealthy couple, this is how they chose to be remembered, as it is most likely they commissioned this piece before their demise. I like that they lie equally side by side.
Monsieur Charles de La Vieuville died in 1653, and ten years later was followed in death by his wife Marie Bouhier. Yet, I see depicted in this sculpture, that she followed him in life. Charles was probably a bigger man, but his posture, the turn of his body, his open eyes, her eyes closed, places Marie in his shadow.
I never found the nameplates of this disagreeable looking couple below. They could have been the kindest, happiest people, but as they were portrayed in death, or as they chose to be portrayed in death, it doesn't appear to be so. Again, from my observations, they are a couple, but separately portrayed.


So imagine my happiness and the warmth that came over my heart when I saw this first "couple," in the Egyptian art rooms. They were sitting together, looked reasonably pleasant and their son was depicted in between though quite out of scale. Their time frame was between 2600 BC and 2500 BC. Most important, they look like equal partners.
The joy of finding another happy couple. Same time frame.
The couple below had a special surprise. They were carved from wood and created between the years 2300 and 2200 BC. Since they were in an open case, I realized I could see the back of the sculpture too. It melted my heart. 


I was now on a museum search for all the happy couples in antiquity. In the following days, if Tony found a couple before me, he would find me and ask, "Have you seen the happy couple?" My spirits perked and I followed him to greet joy.
 The wife's embrace was so endearing, but what kind of tradition dictated the wife placing her arm around her husband?
I almost missed the revelation from the unknown Greek couple from the first century AD.
The husband's arm is draped around his wife.
 When we came upon the Etruscans (apprx. 500 BC) I again found my embracing husband.


Finally, the happiest couple of all appeared to be the couple who were equally embracing one another.

Ounsou and his wife Imenhetep 1450 BC

 My observations and the influence of art, have made me more sentimental; in the same room as Venus de Milo, I turn to see an old Spanish couple. The woman sits in a wheelchair, and her companion sits on a bench by her side. When he reaches out and puts his arm around her, real life ties itself beautifully to the art and love depicted in the past. Both bring tears to my eyes. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

To Disney or Not To Disney

When we emerged from the station at Marnee-La-Valee, and I saw the mass of never ending concrete, all I could think about were those poor French farmers whose protests never mattered. Disneyland Paris opened in 1992 under a disenchanting prediction "The sun will never set on the Disney empire."

We'd chosen a perfect weather day for keeping the crowds away: 50-80% chance of rain throughout the day. It paid off and we never had more than a 15 minute wait; we even had our own boat on It's a Small World. We enjoyed the fine mist throughout the day; it was like being in a cloud. When the sun came out~~what a treat.

We'd purchased our tickets online and they were only $53 per person for both parks: Walt Disney studios (comparable to California adventure), and Disneyland Paris....wait...can this be true? It was, but only because Disneyland was going through a major renovation and several of the main attractions were closed: space mountain, thunder mountain, Peter pan, adventure island, Swiss family Robinson treehouse, Pocahontas village.

Our round trip train from Paris was $15 per person and took apprx. 35 minutes.

So...to Disneyland Paris or not to Disneyland Paris? I would never be so foolish as to steer someone away from what might be a magical day, but I do have my opinions.

I expected Disneyland Paris to be more French, so I was gravely disappointed when the food offerings were hamburgers and french fries, and the sweets were donuts and cookies. When I saw a small tray of pain au chocolats, we ordered one and were sorely disappointed--it was not even a bad American pain au chocolat. The worst I've ever had. However, those resented french fries--were very tasty.

One very, very bad ride. When the torture finished, I turned to Tony and asked, "Where's the quality control?" My favorite Disneyland Anaheim ride, Indiana Jones, had been butchered in France. It is only an outdoor roller coaster lacking in head protection. My head banged from side to side, Tony took a few whacks to his ears. The staging however was beautiful--a deserted archaeological camp with jeeps, idols and empty tents, but beauty can't compensate for a headache--skip Indiana Jones Paris.

DP was built for large crowds. The sidewalks are bigger, the spaces are bigger, hence walking distances are greater between rides. We enjoyed the absolute aesthetic beauty. Landscaping was stunning. The first-entry buildings were more pleasant than Anaheim or Florida. Main Street USA's view of Beauty and the Beast castle was breathtaking.


Walt Disney studios was pleasant but marginalized. The rides weren't quite as good. Except for Tower of Terror (an exact replica of California Adventure's), they seemed to have been created with half the imagination, with half the budget. Ratatouille was however~~darling! By simply wearing 3-D glasses, I now know what it's like to be a rat scurrying through a French kitchen.

The park seemed to be dominated by the Angleterres, from just a hop across the channel. Their language, the variety of accents that distinguished the gentile from the dock workers; their twist on hair color, tattoos and dress--I felt surrounded by the Dursleys--which was almost as entertaining as anything else in the park.

I enjoyed immensely the Tower of Babel atmosphere. So many languages, so many diverse people from all over the world who were brought together for one day in one grand commonality~~to experience Disneyland magic.

And was the Disneyland magic present?

Absolutely. Only a truly curmudgeon, American tourist could deny the magic. It came during the parade as little children sat on their father's shoulders waving to Mickey. It came when everyone flocked to a golden coach carrying the Frozen sisters while the beloved music blasted through the park. It was a moment of awe, and I imagined how it must have been when people saw the Savior and rushed to be as close to him as possible.

The best part was in stepping away from Paris for just one day; it magnified the magic of Paris! The day before I had walked into a hall at the Louvre that was absolutely spellbinding. Every corner was gilted in gold, every inch of space was gloriously painted. In the middle of the room were glass exhibits of royalty's jewels. Necklaces and tiaras with hundreds of diamonds, emeralds, rubies and other precious stones. Disneyland had nothing on the imagination of the Renaissance French and their overindulgence in beauty.
The Gallery of Apollo-even the floor is a masterpiece.


 The next morning after jumping on a bike and dodging Parisian traffic, I called to Tony, "It's great to be back in Paris riding a bike."

As was, sinking my mouth into a real pain au chocolat from Julien's Boulangerie.

As was walking authentic cobblestone streets while passing Disneyland-like architecture,

As was the pull into a cathedral when we heard a Gregorian chorus.

As will be the moment, at journey's end, when we pull into our own garage.

It was all worth the truth revealed from a day at Disneyland Paris~~ magic is everywhere.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Communal Foie Gras

Last jaunt around the globe to Paris, we found this charming restaurant where we had lunch on a rainy day: La Regalade. Unlike Tony, who remembers every restaurant and every meal he's ever had, I don't. When we discovered a different La Regalade restaurant just down the street from our flat, Tony remembered. It meant nothing to me until we peeked in the window and I saw a jar of rice pudding.

Meals in France are often set, including a set price. A patron can order an entree (appetizer), a plat (main course) and dessert (the same in French and English). There are usually three to five choices in each category. It's a fun way to eat. Previously, at La Regalade in a different location, we'd ordered the set meal and I had chosen the rice pudding for dessert. When I saw the rice pudding through the window, I remembered, like Tony remembers. I could taste the creamy texture, the accompanying burnt caramel sauce, I could taste the humble rice pudding elevated to status gourmet.

 This had to be the sister restaurant because no one serves rice pudding in the same way. Tony made reservations.

When we sat down and the waiter brought us a loaf size pan of foie gras, I remembered again. I would never consider eating foie gras, having tasted it once and only once in my lifetime. Tony would never order foie gras, but the waiter brought us, an on-the-house, appetizer of foie gras pate. Sort of like the chips and salsa the Mexican restaurant places on your table within minutes of sitting down. The foie gras was accompanied by a basket of bread and a large crock of baby pickles and onions. These are communal dishes. After Tony had made a slight dent in our loaf of foie gras, and we acknowledged we had finished, we watched the waiter deliver the exact same loaf to the patrons sitting extremely close to our table. On the other side, the waiter delivered a foie gras loaf with only an eighth of it left. I watched the pickle crock and surmised they refilled it to the top each time.

"They'd never get away with that in America," I whispered. "What if someone sneezed or spilled water on it or worse..."

When in France, don't compare what America would or wouldn't do...

Tony's first visit in France, he was quite unaware of communal foods protocol.  The waitress brought him the white cheese platter for dessert. He promptly pulled it close and dug in. The horrified waitress let him know, in French, that he was only supposed to take a delicate French portion and then she would serve the platter to other restaurant patrons. Back then, Tony's French speaking skills were nil, and the waitress figured the way to get through to the cheese gorging American was to speak louder. And louder. By the time he got it, everyone in the restaurant knew the American was trying to hog everyone's portion of the dessert cheeses.

The rest of the meal at La Regalade was incroyable!  Our servings were distinct individual portions and we didn't concern ourselves with eating everyone else's food. Until the rice pudding arrived. It came in a big jar with a big wooden spoon and a glass bowl with another spoon and another bowl of browned carmel sauce. It was enough to feed many people.

"Tony, what if this is the communal bowl of rice pudding? What if I'm supposed to take my portion and pass it on?"

Tony didn't think so as he scooped up a hefty portion into his mini souffle already-eaten bowl, which he'd generously shared with me when he saw my table-for-eight dessert portion.

As I scooped up my second portion and watched Tony scoop his third, it just seemed....it just seemed like this was too much rice pudding for one dessert serving.

"Tony, I think we just ate all of the rice pudding, at least for another table or two."

Tony didn't agree as he was scraping with a spoon the last wisps of cream from the enormous jar of rice pudding.

When he was completely finished, he finally wondered, "What if it was the communal rice pudding bowl?"

Too late.

When the waitress picked up our empty dishes, we both waited for the reprimand. It never came, but instead, approval, and another small plate of the most delicious madeleines I've ever tasted--another item we hadn't ordered, but with dessert, the restaurant played it safe--there were only two.

A bonus for the food lover:

Dinner at La Regalade
My entree: white asparagus stacked like one would build a fire,  topped with basil vinagrette, herbs and a poached egg cooked to perfection.
Tony's entree: squid ink risotto (oh the color!), with tiny pieces of shrimp and other dazzling small items.

My plat: mushrooms in two different sauces topped by another perfectly poached egg. A sumptuous blend of flavors.
Tony's plat: a tender piece of beef topped with carmelized oranges and on the arm, a divine, buttery, rich gravied bowl of divinely whipped potatoes. To call these potatoes mashed would be too barbaric.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Time Unveiling Truth

It still hurts.

I was young enough that my mother had to drive me to singing lessons at the university. One afternoon, I wouldn't be able make it, so I called the music department a few days before to cancel my lesson. Keep in mind, these were the days before personal emails, cell phone and even message machines. The next week when I went to my lesson, the teacher chastised me for not showing up and failing to cancel. But I had, and tried to tell her, but she would have none of what she was sure of: my lie.

If you've ever been doubted, questioned, even accused of untruths; if you've ever felt slighted by someone's lying, you will relate to the above image and its striking power.

We found this in the Louvre's Northern European gallery stacked with works from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century.

Father Time is the angel on the right and the seated woman is Truth. The title of the piece is "Time unveiling truth."

The irony is that this is a copy of the original which hangs just above. The original was worn down and the copy is more vibrant, more detailed. I also find it ironic that the artist is unknown.

Which is usually the story of truth and fabrication.

I love its promise that truth will be unveiled by time. Truth always prevails, surfaces, is always admitted to--over time--because of what it is: truth.

It still hurts--even more than the time I was accused of lying--the memories of the lies I intentionally told.

We hop on our bikes and what first appeared to be a sunny day is threatened by dark clouds. The opposing weather meets just above my head and I wonder which will prevail: rain or sunshine. It will most likely rain, but the sun will eventually emerge~~like truth.



Thursday, June 23, 2016

Second Billing, a French Conspiracy, and Innovation

I have never written about the incredible fruit available in Paris, and I believe it's because they are the supporting cast to the high brow creations of French cuisine.

Not as common as patisseries or boulangeries, fruit stands or mini markets are still plentiful. The owners, the workers take pride in their fruit. Tastes are assured. One never helps oneself.

"Madame, une cerise?"

One bite and one finds oneself indulging in a half kilo of the round red fruits picked this morning and trucked into the city.

 Where do the fruits come from in this northern European country? I picture the warm grape orchards of southern Italy or as-far-as-the-eye-can-see melon fields in Spain. The cherries are plentiful now-perhaps they are from France's own orchards.




The melons are the sweetest I have ever tasted. I pitted the cantaloupe, dried and saved the seeds, hoping the variety is a coveted French secret like my crepe recipe supposedly pilfered out of France decades ago. And why wouldn't the French keep their culinary secrets to themselves?

It gives us a reason to come to France, a reason to envy their prowess, to swoon over their gastronomic skills extraordinaire. I was convinced of this on a recent search for a simple crepe making tool. Three years ago, we found one in an out of the way kitchen shop, and since making hundreds of crepes, I am in need of an additional crepe tool. We haven't found the same one yet. "Try next door," is the curt answer when we inquire at a large shop with every cooking necessity ever manufactured. We try next door and find an inferior design to my original.

"This is intentional," I mumble to Tony, "They don't want Americans to make good crepes."

If my suspicion is true, the French are too late. I prefer the crepes I make to any crepe in France--hands down.

But isn't that what we do? We have a love, whether it is a food, a piece of clothing, a suggested way to garden, and reading; we play with the love, we experiment, we write our own version, we make it our own. Our creation, our experimentation, our labor of love becomes better than any we have ever known. We fit it to our specific tastes. This is progress, adaptation, perfection. It is how Tony, after trying every kung pao recipe in West Los Angeles restaurants, created his own, and to this day, his is the best.

The best of the best is even more so, because it requires innovation.



 But where, or where did these mangos come from? We have never tasted a creamier, sweeter mango--not even picked directly from a Hawaiian mango tree or a Mexican fruit cart.


Somewhere, sometime, a gardener tasted a mango. He experimented, cross pollinated, grafted after traveling far and wide for the best mango ever--and then he created his own, and because of is desire,  I have tasted the best mango in the entire world. In Paris.

Ahhhh....but the price of this mango. It truly was a once in a lifetime mango experience.





Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Unexpected Utilitarian

I have always admired Swiss ingenuity--never more so than when I found a Swiss army knife on Serge's desktop.

My pinky finger had been pulsing for a couple of days. I thought I'd already pulled out the boysenberry thorn that had pierced my finger before we left. But there it was: a dark brown sliver clearly visible. I smothered it with salve, covered it with a bandaid and watched it come to the surface--but still I had to pierce the skin to let it out. I held a swing-out blade to the flame for sterilization thinking how barbaric the incident was going to be. Yet it wasn't. The thorn came out with little effort and zero pain.

Then the most brutal realization after I bit into an overly-buttered baguette and felt pain in every chew.

"I can't eat," I announced to Tony.

A piece of a crown in the back of my mouth had broken off and had left a jagged edge. Each time I chewed, my tongue scraped the jagged edge. The cumulative effect came all at once.

I can't eat in Paris?
What will I do?

My tummy was full, so I buried my ostrich neck into the sand...but then a bike ride later and three o'clock in the afternoon, I was hungry, cold, and desperate to get to a French dentist. Complicated.

Instead, I opened the Swiss army knife. A jagged edge, a file. Fortunately, our dentist in the states was available via text. "File away," she replied.

A barbaric half hour later, I could see the light; maybe the vacation wasn't ruined.

During the darkest hour of the day, when I realized how hungry I was, but knew chewing and swallowing would be impossible--even talking caused my tongue to brush the errant tooth--there was a blessed moment. We'd also hit a rain storm when cycling from the farthest edge of the city we'd yet to explore. I was wet and chilled, and we couldn't find an empty rack at any of the Velib bike stations. We kept pedaling farther from our apartment until the fourth station had space. We clicked our bikes into place, started walking and thankfully noticed a woman with a baby, carrying a large bag, who looked more put-out than me.

"We should help that woman," I said to Tony, but she kept walking when we had crossed the street.
She had only crossed at a different spot and when we met up within a few steps, it was my second chance! I approached her and asked, but she gave me an incomprehensible stare. Bad French again. Tony to the rescue, she smiled and handed the bag to him. He made a few jokes about her strength but I didn't think much about it until he passed the bag to me to measure its weight. Wow! It was heavy. Crazy heavy.

We walked a substantial distance; the woman smiled, we talked and knew we'd lifted a burden.

When we got home, I realized I'd forgotten the hunger, the pain, and the cold.

Relief isn't found only in an aspirin,  a change of clothes, or a Swiss army knife.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Correction: A Four Minute Walk

While walking to the Louvre one evening, I ask Tony to time us.

"You want to time us because of your writing." He gives me the silly look.

In part, he's right.  I had written that we were a three minute walk from the Louvre and yes, I should be checking to make sure it's correct, but it's not really the reason I want him to time our walk tonight. I hesitate whether I should tell him the real reason, but of course I do, because he's already aware he married a woman with an out of control imagination, with a bent towards the worse case scenario.

"Well, I really want to know the time because if something happened to us,  if we were in an explosion or shot down, our daughters would know where to find our belongings."

He already reminded me at the beginning of the trip, that the odds of dying at the hands of a terrorist are less than dying from a lightening strike.

Yet, I've had a friend who died from a lightening strike and a friend's sister's friend, who died in a terrorist attack.

"You see," I continue, "I've written about our apartment but without our children knowing the address, it would be hard to come to Paris and find our possessions. I wrote that we are only three minutes from the Louvre and I included a photo of the big blue door and the name of the building, so with that information, they could start at the Louvre, walk in each direction for three minutes and eventually find the apartment."

Not sure what to make of this, Tony half laughs. There have been a lot of half laughs in our marriage.

My natural and logical way of thinking is fueled when we read an AP warning: French official: Police have been alerted that small extremist groups could be en route to France, Belgium to stage attacks.

My tendency towards morbid thoughts intensified when I looked out the window the first night and watched three soldiers, machine guns cradled and ready to aim, and remembered why there was a need.

I remembered Charlie Hebdo, the night of the Bataclan, the the madman who took hostages in the Jewish supermarket.






 I remembered and re-watched in my mind the terror recorded by a person caught in the Brussels Belgium airport.  Degaulle airport was crowded with people and for the first time in an airport, I couldn't ignore my vulnerability.

While biking around the city, we are continually re-routed by police with machine guns.

Today, as we made our way from the eighth arrondissement through the fifteenth and south to the seventh, we kept hitting closed roads guarded by machine gun carrying men. It was a sizable chunk of space and when we finally got through, we saw it was the American embassy under scrutiny.

The bottom line is if we were really in danger or thought we were in danger, we wouldn't be here; but just in case, the walk to the Louvre takes four minutes at a brisk, brisk pace.





Monday, June 20, 2016

Le Petit Machon

We ate at the Petit Machon for dinner, a restaurant highly recommended by our landlord Serge. In fact, on a trot home from the Louvre one day, we saw Serge and his companion eating at Le Machon's sidewalk table. We knew someone in Paris!

Le Petit Machon's menu was replete with French favorites: tripe (tongue), beef brains, tar tar (raw hamburger), sausage brioche; only one item stood out and sold me on a visit: Le grand assiette de vegetables. The big plate of vegetables. I would be safe.

It was beautiful. The tastes were splendid.

After the first bite, I dug in with vigor.

"Why didn't you take a photo?" Tony asked.

"Because no one cares about vegetables in France."

Perhaps I was wrong, because I wish I'd taken a photo. Creamed potatoes, squigly mushrooms, sweet potato rounds with an onion-tomatoe tapenade, zucchini and tomatoes, slivered carrots, a floret of broccoli, a petite bite of roasted turnip--all with their individual and amazing tastes.

But what gave this restaurant its flavor was the impetuous waiter. We were his first table of the evening and found him charming if not rather anxious. As the tables filled we saw his explanations speed up and his whirling hands whirl faster. When the table next to us, a couple with heavy British accents, ordered the first item on the menu, he said, "No, you wouldn't like it." When the woman questioned him, he entered a diatribe of previous patrons who were unhappy with the dish and he knew she would be too. He would not allow her to order what she wanted!

As the evening at Le Petit Machon came to an end, Tony called the waiter over for a few explanations on the dessert menu. As always, Tony asked his waiter what his favorite dessert was; but his charm and credibility having been greatly diminished, his recommendation went unheeded: glazed prunes.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Camondo Family Museum

I once attended a Connecticut book club where I met an older woman who had helped during WWII with the Cevanol school in Le Chambon (a village in the Haute-Loire region of France known for saving Jews). We spoke of the different scenarios, the people, the Vichy government. Our conversation shifted to Paris and she corrected me with abruptness, "There were Jews living in Paris during the war."

"What?" I was astonished and curious.

She shut down and wouldn't continue the conversation as if she were privy to some great secret.

Left to make sense of what she had alluded to, I assumed that Jews could have stayed alive in Paris by knowing and bribing the right people.

After touring the Museum Nissim de Camondo, I learned that staying alive in German occupied France with money and connections may have been the exception; for the Camondo family, it was not.

The Camondo family was part of a Sephardic Jewish community in Spain. In 1492, after a decree that all citizens must convert to Catholicism, the family moved on to Venice. Unsettled once again by changes of an Austrian takeover, the family moved to Istanbul where they flourished as merchants, branched into banking, and became extremely wealthy.

In  1869, the family patriarch after the death of his son, followed his two grandsons to Paris, and what a life they lived. More success, more money--enough for one of the second-generation-in-Paris sons, Moise, to become a passionate collector of 18th century French treasures.

He acquired land on the exclusive edge of Parc Monceau, where he built a mansion specifically to showcase his art and furniture collection. Exquisite parlor rooms were arranged with six walls in between big windows to hang a collection, a story in paintings of two separated lovers eventually reunited. When Moise found an ancient Chinese vase, he hunted the collector's market until he found its pair. Tapestries, rugs, Louis the XV desks, grace the home in a timeless capsule of a nineteenth century, wealthy man's mansion.

The lovers reunited


Moise married and fathered two children, but his wife ran off with an Italian horse trainer. The marriage ended in divorce and Moise won custody of the children--but of course, such scandal would never have rewarded this woman.

Moise's children were loved, indulged, and raised well. Nissim and Beatrice were the center of his life. But the times created more tragedy. Nissim was killed in WWI.

Beatrice married and had two children, Fanny and Bertrand~~the light of Moise's life, so much that Beatrice stayed at the Camondo mansion during their young years.

Beatrice loved horses and riding; she didn't share her father's passion for art. Moise Camondo bequeathed his art filled mansion to the French Union Central Des Arts Decoratifs. He continued to collect and improve the worth and aesthetics of his life long passion named for his deceased son: Nissim. Part of the gift included his very specific desires of how the mansion should be cared for, the display of furniture, and even hours of operation.

In 1942, the last of the Camondos were arrested in Paris for the crime of being Jewish. Like other wealthy, socially established Jews throughout Europe, Beatrice believed she was insulated by her money, social standing, her father and brother's sacrifice to France. The family was sent to Drancy, a Paris holding prison of filth and degradation--until the entire family, husband Leon Reinach, Fanny and Bertrand in 1943, and Beatrice in 1944, were sent to Auschwitz.

They never returned.

Beatrice and Nissim Camondo

The irony of this great tragedy is that the mansion was kept perfectly in tact according to Moise's expectations because it became a Paris museum at the time of his death, before the Nazi invasion. Had Beatrice inherited the family home, as an arrested and imprisoned Jew, the art treasures would have been confiscated, dispersed; the house sold. That we walk among beauty only because of the Camondo family's misfortune brings conflict, sobriety and sadness, at the end of a lovely afternoon.


Photos copied from francerevisited.fr

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The First Real Morning In Paris


It's ten o'clock in the morning; I barely pulled myself out of bed. Tony informs me daughters number two and three have already texted: they're waiting for a photo of this morning's pastry run. 

"But it's 1:00 and 2:00 a.m back home!" I protest as if I'm still their doting mother.

Beginning last Monday morning, our stay in Paris began! How can I say it began on Monday when we arrived on Saturday afternoon? Because it was the first morning pastry run.

We are now on day five and each day, Tony has worked himself down another block, to another boulangerie.

"Are there really that many bakeries?" another daughter asks during a facetime conversation.

"Usually one per block. Not all of them are good. One must be discerning."

Tony is indeed discerning. 

Monday morning: classic croissant, almond croissant, and pain au chocolat were the kickoff. The cost of a plain croissant is typically one euro. Notice there are only three French pastries on this plate.

Tuesday morning: from right to left: une baguette, classic croissant, fietelle de chocolat, and a comparable to the American crueller. Three pastries, one baguette.
Wednesday morning: Notice there are five pastries and a baguette on this morning's run. Though the little critter is a two-bite only pastry. In Tony's defense, there were leftovers for the afternoon.


Thursday morning: Back down to four pastries: still leftovers
After four days of indulgence, we claim a kind of conoisseure-ship for the four bakeries found at incremental distances from our apartment if heading in a north-west direction. Two of the bakeries have won awards for the best baguette of the year, different years. The croissants were most buttery from Julian's, The Parisienne receives the award for best baguette. By now we're using phrases such as "The crunch is too much; I prefer the crunch on the top and the soft inside." I felt I possessed the finesse of Master Chef's Christina Tosi. Once our palettes were trained, we saved the best for the end of the week: croissants from Pierre Herme. It required a bike ride to the Left Bank, the Rive Gauche, on Rue Bonapartes~~ after which we saved the croissants for our favorite spot in Luxembourg Parc~~the Medici fountain, where we slowly, quietly, indulged.


From left to right: pain au chocolat (with two ribbons of chocolat), croissant with mango/orange pate, and ispahan croissant, a raspberry, almond filling. 

A month before our Paris arrival, Tony started craving and searching for the American counterpart of a great croissant. He never found it and in exasperation exclaimed, "I'm not eating another croissant until Paris."

The wait has more than paid off.

And Sunday, thank goodness, is a day of rest.



Friday, June 17, 2016

A Cook in the Courtyard

To allieve the stuffiness of our two hundred and fifty year old Parisian flat, I open the windows within minutes of walking inside. Right away, that familiar smell of bacon wafts in. Having sworn off all things pork, I can still appreciate the earthy, reminiscent reminder of salty flavor. Since it is French bacon, I suspect it is more fresh than its American counterpart. I also suspect, it comes from a farm that would never fatten its pigs with antibiotics or store the pigs in a pig house. These pigs roam fields of a pastoral farm, sneak under fences to snatch strawberries and lap water from a fresh brook and not from a pig trough. Honestly, the bacon smell is fantastic, and I look forward to smelling what else this cook extraordinaire has in her pan.

Later that evening, the cook in the courtyard is cooking beef. It too is a distinct smell, but once again has all the imagined pluses of being French. The beef is fresh, picked up from the butcher around the corner who takes pride in his cuts, his flavor, and his loyal service to patrons. Having sworn off all things beef, my mouth still waters with that succulent taste of a sirloin grilled and seasoned to perfection.

This morning I curl back into my side of the bed for early Sunday morning reading. I need more light and the bed is duvet covered, so when Tony suggests opening the window, I jump up to open the drapes and let the sunshine in. I settle back in and am seized again by the antics of the cook in the courtyard. As if personally welcomed in, the flavors enter as the perfect combination of butter infused flour. Surely, the courtyard cook must have just placed a sheet of croissants in her oven, and as the croissants puff and bake, each layer escapes and swirls in to our room. The warm buttery smell turns into a hint of chocolate. As the flavors progress, so do our guesses.

"It has a hint of chocolate now. It must be pain au chocolat."

Tony takes a deep inhale of the Parisian Bakery scent.  "I think the cook could also be stirring a pan of hot chocolate."

 The cook's finest wafting through the dining room window,
 Through the bedroom window,
Through the living room window--if only smells could be seen.

The courtyard cook is consistent--at each mealtime, I anticipate what's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

This morning when Tony opened the window, the courtyard cook was making eggs--the distinct smell secondary to the first~~ butter. The national staple of France.

Afterthought: While deep in walking thought, I've been trying to figure out how to have that smell of baking butter in my house besides the obvious: learning the laborious process of croissant making and cooking them everyday. Could I melt butter in a double boiler? Keep it rolling on the stove like potpourri? If Bath and Body Works could come up with Buttery Croissant as a flavor, scent...if it were a candle...

Afterthought 2: Last night, my dreams included the buttery smell. Or maybe the courtyard cook couldn't sleep.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Illumination

It is early Sunday evening after a rain shower, when Tony and I head out into the streets of Paris. We stop at Saint Eustache and catch the tail end of mass. We shift from tourists on a walk, to peaceful, reverent, grateful human beings. As we meander Paris streets, it starts to rain again. We pop our umbrellas and sink into the moment.

We cross the street into the second arrondissement and find the regular street gives way to a paved street of particular beauty: cars are absent, the streets are clean, and trees tower. We have found the pieton (pedestrian) only district, a quiet, idyllic place in the extended heart of Paris. As we come upon a busier street in Montorgueil, lined with restaurants, trendy shops, and strollers just like us, a woman crosses the street and just in front of us, she lays a beautiful white peony on a piece of stone marked like a grave.

Paris is a city full of grim tragedy, and the city's fathers and mothers haven't hesitated to mark the spots of historical tragedy with brass plaques and engravings. Casually shopping on a quiet street, one may come upon a spot where a resistance fighter was shot down in 1944. He is memorialized with a plaque in the side of a building.

We stop to read the engraved sidewalk. The marble memorializes the last man condemned to die in Paris for homosexuality. The year was 1750. It should have been the last year that any human being died because of who or what they were--gay, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Tutsis, Indian, female, Armenian, Bosnian, ...oh the list could go on almost forever...

It isn't until the next morning, now evening in Florida, when I read about the Orlando attack, and I understand the solemn, mourning face of the woman who placed the peony on the memorial.

When I consider the light of the world, I am perplexed by the darkness that still exists, yet the woman's simple act of kindness reminds me of Rabbi Schulweis' words: Evil will not distinguish the goodness in the world, it will illuminate it.






Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Never Take Your Own Advice

We are literally a three minute walk from one of the world's eminent museums~~the Louvre; I am ashamed to think I suggested in my pre-Paris primer, skipping such an important place.

My mind shift came when Tony suggested we buy a pass, so we could visit multiple times instead of the dreaded one day run-through to catch all the great works of art. It's the kind of exploration I detest: fighting crowds for a three second peek at the Mona Lisa, and equivalent to the European traveler's curse I learned from my friend Suzanne: ADC--another ________cathedral. The first cathedral, the first art, is exciting--the last is torture.

So we headed for the Louvre in the early morning to become Friends of the Louvre--annual pass holders. While contemplating which line to wait in, an American couple asked us if we'd like two premium tickets. His company had bought the tickets and these were extra. One cannot resist even if one is about to buy a year long pass. Besides, it would get us in via the short priority line opposite of the mega line in front of the glass pyramid. We were overjoyed. Hoping we wouldn't need to use the tickets, we could then pass them on to another unsuspecting "jackpot recipient" of free Louvre tickets.

We found the office for Friends of the Louvre in an out-of-the way, underground corner. The beautiful and gentille young woman was remiss to inform us that the fantastical internet price of eighty euro for a one year family pass had gone up almost 50% since last offered in January. Tony hesitated with two free tickets in hand, but I was already sold on the idea of a leisurely, pleasurable stroll through the Louvre each day in Paris. He reached into those deep pockets and pulled out the necessary commerce to make his wife happy.

The young woman proceeded to tell us all the perks for becoming Friends of the Louvre in the coming year. The perks no longer mattered once I became a card carrying associate of the Louvre. I was now Madame and Tony--Monsieur.




We spent our first morning absorbing completely the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Instead of racing past the ancient Greek treasure, I studied the folds of its marble, the ship, the ledger to the right with copious notes of its history. I could also enjoy one of the other marvels of an international museum: the people.


And those free tickets? Well, I actually prayed to know who to give them to. Yes, I take pretty seriously two free tickets to the Louvre; it had become a stewardship. As I approached the ticket line, I got a warm fuzzy feeling knowing I was in the right place. I handed them to two young American women almost next in line. I knew she was dedicated to visiting the Louvre and somehow, I knew she was on a budget. Her jaw dropped and she said "Thank-you."








Tuesday morning we wake up, ready for our dalliance with the Louvre. We pull out the brochures to discover which exhibit to visit today;  Tony lays out the map which he will have memorized in a short time--alas, our plan is thwarted--the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

History Smells

We meet Serge at the big blue door in the building "Detective Duploc" on Rue de Louvre. He offers to carry my suitcase up the five flights of pre-French Revolution stairs, and travel weary as I am, acceptance is conveyed with barely a shrug and a "Merci." Six floors of apartments without an elevator. Renting our fifth floor flat, is a weight control program for an indulgent three weeks of bread, cream, and butter.


When we enter the charming apartment, I am accosted by smells and think of Helen Keller who said she could enter a home and smell five layers of families who'd lived in that home.  Without her heightened perception of smell, I can detect at least three, but given the age of our building, there could have been a hundred families who once occupied this space.



Our apartment is so unique, or so I think; when I read a passage from Eloisa Jame's memoir, Paris in Love, except for the layout, it seems she rented the same  flat. She writes,  Our Paris apartment is elegant in the way of a Chanel coat found in an attic trunk: worn around the edges but beautifully designed. The building dates to the 1750s, and the wood floors are all original. The kitchen and bathroom are at the far end of a long corridor that bends around one corner of the buildings courtyard--so that the smells (and the servants) would be isolated.

Rarely do I ever wish I could see ghosts--except today when I can almost imagine the 18th century artisan kneeling in his rough wool knickers and his bumpy leather boots. He pounds the wood into its basketweave pattern, the hard work distracting him from his political concerns of the day: the difficulty in supporting his family, the talk of aristocratic extravagance.




Right away, we see our apartment layout is such that we cannot hear one another from the bedroom to the living room. The apartment is approximately 600 square feet, but the early French designers understood sound isolation. Like James' apartment, our bedroom is separated by a bend around a courtyard from the kitchen and living room. While in these separate rooms, we call to one another and are never heard. This is fantastic since jet lag has us waking at odd hours of the early morning. I can go about my day at 2:00 a.m. and never disturb Tony.

In the wee hours of this morning, a day after imagining the floor craftsman placing and pounding his wood slats, I am laying on the couch reading a book. In the quiet room, I hear breathing as if it is right next to me. I startle. Tony must be breathing loud, I think. But it can't be Tony. For me to hear him breathing when I cannot hear him call from the bedroom...is...impossible? I'm still. I listen. Could it be in the next flat? Impossible again, as we have yet to hear any noise from what must be a well insulated building. Only one conclusion will do. The floor craftsman is here. I don't see ghosts, but I hear them. Or maybe I did see the 18th century man and attributed it to my imagination. 

When I finally creep back to bed at 4:00 a.m., I do so with an unsettling awareness. The ancient Paris apartment has revealed more than expected.




Monday, June 13, 2016

Let the New Parisian Adventure Begin!

I've admitted to a tendency of being a living-in-the-past shopper, and I'm seeing the same tendency (though it isn't shopping), in our first 24 hours in Paris. We rode past our first apartment (me longing for the quieter location), walked past Les Halles again, made continual references to past experiences with phrases like, "This gate was never locked before," or, "It seems like there's more homeless people than before." When we rode bikes straight to Notre Dame just because it's what we always did and didn't find the Africans selling and shooting their colorful wares into the night sky, it wasn't as magical as before--

Note to self: beware of the "than before" attached to the end of sentences and experiences.

Nostalgia is a treasure, but so are new experiences when not held hostage by the previous. The default to remember when, can be a dream trip, a life trip, a buzz kill. Each adventure necessitates and deserves its own set of -new-eyes, or its own payoff of, "Wow, we've never done this."

Some experiences will always require a repeat: Disneyland, the seashore, a fine restaurant, and of course Paris. Within Paris, we will always stand in awe inside Notre Dame, find that one boulangerie with the pear tarte, wait in line at Pierre Hermes for the visual and epicurean ecstasy, and buy tickets to Vivaldi in St. Chapelle.

We are programmed to return to the pleasurable. We do it over and again in our relationships, our travels, our sensory adventures. We bake the same peanut butter cookie recipe because it consistently tastes good; we lunch with the same friends who validate our importance. We long to learn from the same professor who brings excitement to American history or brings clarity to math.

The challenge emerges when our repeat doesn't live up to its memory: it doesn't taste as good, it doesn't meet the same standard of performance, the clerks aren't kind like they used to be. When it doesn't, the experience has a built in, unavoidable, guaranteed disappointment. Given that travel is limited to one planet, given that tastebuds, sights and sounds have a limited range, how do we keep experiences fresh and time worthy? We renew the experience within the experience. We continue the hunt for the new: a perfect croissant, baguette or Asian infused French restaurant, a hidden park, a new cobblestoned street, a friend.

So... months before we began this Paris expedition, we started the trip with new eyes: We rented a different apartment but stayed in the first arrondissement. We chose different dates within the same-visited summer months. We will return to the same patisseries and return to the souffle-only restaurant, but we'll try a new flavor along with the raspberry. Within our marriage, we will choose new topics to explore and recently we even took up a new sport. We look for the new within the old, and we're not afraid to let go of the old, or hang on to the valuable old.

This is where memory serves us and when memory becomes treasure. The wisdom comes in knowing when it needs to become only a memory.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Humorous Child Perspective And A Not So Humorous Adult Perspective

I am attending my third school graduation in the last two months.

This graduation takes place in an arena that holds thousands; half is partitioned and half is filled with people: men, women, children, babies.

Before the crop of dentists, pharmacists, and nurses walk for their diplomas, we listen to a few outstanding talks. One of the doctors mentions the works of Plato. To my surprise a few children are listening; in the mostly quiet auditorium, I hear their unrestrained reactions to the mention of the philosopher Plato.

"Play-doh?" One little guy is surprised the speaker standing in black and purple robes dangling with tassels, a silk draping across his chest, and wearing a muffin-man black hat, would mention the clay he shapes and squeezes.

At the same time, I hear another echo of Plato, "I have Play-doh."

We often tune out what we hear until it's important to us.

I turn to Tony and ask, "How much collective debt sits on the shoulders of all these graduates?"

We multiply the known debt of an acquaintance by the number of graduates--if our calculations are even close to the average per person debt, collectively, members of the audience have possibly incurred $20 million dollars in debt.

Yet we see how important debt can be to success--when it is managed well.

Currently the national debt is greater than the GDP or the Gross Domestic Product. The GDP is the total value of services provided and goods produced in the entire nation. This debt accumulation that has now surpassed the GDP ( it is 105% of the GDP) looks like a behemoth, a monster, and impossible of ever being paid off.

The borrowing and spending in the last decades resulting in unfathomable trillion dollar debt looks like the work of children who have misinterpreted the works of Plato for Play-doh.

The one candidate who dared to mention the national debt during the early debates, was ignored.
Where are the hundred pound politicians who are willing to tackle the 400 pound debt linebacker running away with the ball?

The November 2016 elections aren't just presidential. I am looking for candidates who are willing to even mention the national deficit.

Few people realize an out of control US debt has been paid off before. In 1816, the debt topped at $127 million (today's debt is 19 trillion). The United States had just ended the war of 1812, a second and bitter embroilment with Great Britain. Senator Thomas Hart Benton noted that if the US could pay down its debt, only then would it be "a nation wholly free."

If we take his words to heart, for a nation that values freedom so highly, we are not a free nation.

Paying down the debt became a national priority. In 1825, at the end of the fifth president's term, James Monroe had set the course and predicted the national debt would be reduced to rubble in ten years. During Andrew Jackson's presidency, the goal was reached.

In the recent past years our government has considered defaulting on our national debt. Can we imagine the consequences?--we have to start facing the possible consequences.

I visited the US National Debt Clock website. It takes a strong stomach to type in http://www.usdebtclock.org. But do it, you must. It will be like walking into Alcoholics Our Country's in Debt Anonymous-- and taking the first step of sobriety to becoming a nation that demands of its leaders-- a plan for recovery.

We need to trade our Play-doh for Plato.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Positive Thoughts to the Universe



A day ago, a recent graduate tweeted, "I hate everything about me, TBH." I was so surprised at the student's public, self abasement, I didn't know how to respond, so I didn't.

This morning I awoke at 5:33, thinking about the tweet knowing I had to respond, and wondering why I hadn't replied to her public cry.

When I found her day old tweet, no one had responded. Like me, they probably didn't know how to respond. Shame on me. Shame on us.

Many things I love about you. See through my eyes until you have clarity, I wrote. It took 20 seconds. Within an hour, I received email notification that she liked my tweet.

Which means she needed a response, needed for someone to pick up the bone she'd tossed into the universe, and needed it tossed back with a love note tied around it.

Modern technology has given us a way to literally send positive thoughts into the universe. I didn't need to buy a card, write it out, find an address, and buy a stamp. I didn't need to find the time to make a phone call. I didn't even have to meditate. I only needed to respond. Positively.

Be stingy with criticism, be generous with praise.


Friday, June 10, 2016

Why You Shouldn't Buy That Fake Gucci Bag on Canal Street

Cops busting up the fake bag sellers along the streets of New York aren't just doing it to protect millions of dollars of lost revenue for big name designers.

Who do you think makes those illegal designer bags?

Next time you want your friends or rather acquaintances (friends would ask), to think you're silly enough to spend $8000 on a designer bag, ask yourself:

Who makes those illegal designer bags?

Is the momentary pride or the imagined social elevation worth it?

And who makes those illegal bags anyway?

In the 1970s I bought my dad a stuffed turtle from the Philippines. When entering the US, customs nabbed that real, endangered-list turtle. As a 17 year old, I fought to get it back and wrote a letter to my state senator. Not once did I think about anything else but my loss.

Instead, I should have asked, why is this turtle on the endangered list? What illegal industry was I supporting? What species would disappear from the planet because of my ignorance and someone else's deceit?

Several years ago, a professor's student was kicked out of the university for watching porn on a school computer. The professor (my friend) was irate over the prudish, old-fashioned standards of Brigham Young University. "It's just porn she said, "give him a break."

Who made that illegal porn? Who was the star in that movie? Was she complicit or forced? I wish I had asked my friend.

And so we are all coming out of the ether of ignorance and we see that illegal activity, the making of porn, the making of handbags, the illegal poaching of endangered animals, might---just might be what fuels a world wide slave trade, in the United State, even in our own cities.

I recently learned in my city, people held against their will, people without English skills were forced to manufacture fake energy drinks. Someone is buying those fake energy drinks because they can get them for a buck cheaper.

Someone is just buying a product.
Someone just wants to look cool with a designer bag.
Someone thinks it's his right to watch porn.
Someone is perpetuating human slavery.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Paris Primer

A few years ago, after living (living sounds so much more enchanting than visiting) in Paris, I learned my friend's daughter would be living (really living) in Paris for the summer. I compiled a list of tips--but they were never needed. Never asked for. Is it that we need to make our own discoveries? Do we reject another's experience in quest of our own? Think of all the steps taken into unchartered territory. All the risky voyages made in the name of "First." Think how we feel when someone gives us advice into the forays of life: marriage, child rearing, etc. Do we ever listen?

Perhaps we only make lists for ourselves. Perhaps we only give advice to others because we are listening.

If you care to listen:

1. Learn how to bike in Paris. Observe on a busy corner how the Parisians bike. There is order and flow and specific paths that are well marked. Download the Velo app so you can access Velo locations. For about 8 euro a week bikes are always accessible. Learn to test it before you take it out. Kick the tires, check the seat, make sure the chain is on and that it has two pedals. If you drop your bike off at a location at the top of a hill, you earn extra time.

2. Speak French and ask for help. My best lessons have come when I've asked a Parisian how to pronounce a word or what is the correct comment or response.

3. Don't overplan. Take time to just sit in the park. Just sit outside Notre Dame.

4. Definitely climb Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame.

5. Vivaldi quartet at St. Chappell is a must see. Don't pay for the organ concert in Notre Dame. Catch a free audition or go the the free one on Sunday at St. Sulpice.

6. Not all boulangeries are created equal. Paris is a city of immigrants and you want an authentic French patisserie or bakery.

7. You can eat cheaply in Paris.

8. Practice stock phrases for those moments when you're accosted by beggars or restauranteurs who try to lure you in. "J'nai pas d'argent." I don't have money. "J'ai deja mange." I've already eaten. Perfect a firm nasal "Non," for the con artists who notice your obvious American looking self.

9. Smile

10. Bring the right shoes for exploring. Make sure they match. Yes, one year I brought two right tennis shoes and my first explore of the trip was in mismatched shoes.

11. Explore. Be open to the unexpected. We actually don't have an agenda. Taking a book to Luxembourg Park is a favorite memory.

12. Know that half the city is waiting to rob or con you especially if you take the train in from the airport and carry an open purse or have a bulge in your back pocket-- expect it, be prepared, don't let it ruin your trip--it's part of the adventure.

13. Google all the con artist tricks so when it actually happens you will laugh and enjoy the moment.

14. Buy a French kitchen gadget--one you will use. Every time you stir, or cut, or twirl, you'll remember the shop, the street, the Parisian moment.

15. If you must, visit the tourist hotspots, but make it your mission to resist, to forgo the crowds and lines. Once you've visited the Louvre, be brave and skip it. Instead, sit outside the Louvre at the pond with the children racing their boats.

16. Go to church in Paris. Not just a visit to a cathedral, but real church attendance.

17. Find the out of the way museums. Sit and enjoy the Monets at L'Orangerie.

18. Use Yelp, Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon for good food recommendations.

19. Find the restaurant that serves only souffles.

20. Each day, look heavenward and offer your heartfelt gratitude that you're in Paris.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Disneyland

"The fried pickles," I respond when asked my favorite part of Disneyland. "Carnation Cafe on Main Street. I've been dreaming of them ever since."

 Breaded in panko and parmesan, served with a thousand island-looking dressing, I'd definitely go back for the fried pickles. How silly is that? I ask myself. It sounds so adult. Too adult. I went to Disneyland for the fried pickles? The food? Okay, I give myself another chance to answer more appropriately, to redeem myself to my questioner.

"I loved Cars. I'd go back for a another chance to race in Cars."

I'd go back to increase my score on the Toy Story interactive ride too. Or maybe for a nostalgic ride on the Matterhorn since it was closed this visit. Or maybe for the rush on the roller coaster that stung the fillings in my teeth with the rush of cool air. Or for the exhilerating speed on Space Mountain.

Oh Disneyland.

Or maybe, I'd go back to feel close to my father.

Dad was Disneyland.

I imagine him as a kid, reared under the sparse conditions of the depression and WWII. He was born to strict European parents who left during WWI, who knew how to sacrifice, how to work, but who didn't know how to laugh enough. I only knew Dad as an adult, unless of course, we were at Disneyland. Disneyland brought out the child in him.

When he heard about Pirates of the Caribbean from my uncle who'd just visited with his seven children, Dad planned a trip. When we stayed at the more-posh-than-we'd-ever-known Disneyland Hotel, we were allowed to choose one toy from the gift shop. We stopped for all the snacks: the frozen banana, the orange julius drink, for candy in the candy shop. Always the train ride around the park. Always. Always photos in front of the old cars, the Matterhorn, the steamship--and us little girls always in our best dresses. The 1960s.


This first trip to Disneyland in ten years, the child within wiggled out of her straight jacket.  I don't do it so often. Hardly at all. All serious and no play keeps the child away.

My child within has been on a long vacation and was ready to play.

When the child in me saw the Autopia and that it had brand new cars, I had to go. It was indeed my favorite childhood ride as driving seemed like the ultimate privilege.

The child in me snagged the front seat in the Indiana Jones mega-jeep.
The child in me ran through the streets of California adventure in the empty, early hour.
The child in me loved the mac and cheese cozy cone at the cozy cone motel.
The child in me bought a Disney character shirt, and has worn it four times.

The child in me wants to do the unthinkable, the touristy, and the heretofore scoffed at adventure:

She wants to go to Disneyland Paris.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Self Acceptance

One-year-old Teddy walks across the floor to accolades from his admirers. That's all he has to do is walk; it is entertaining enough. His new accomplishment is an almost perfected Frankenstein stride. As an upright being, he has conquered one of the first toddler hurdles, and with ever footfall is a wide grin and lit-up eyes. When he manages to pick-up and carry an object, his eyes are even wilder with pride; so is our clapping.

Two year old Sebby has to work a little harder. He has to say, "Donut," with that cute inflection. Not once, but several times, and if he really wants our attention and laughter, he must become an insta comedian. His siblings know how to invoke the Milton Berle in him, and within seconds he's making some wild facial expressions, bringing down the house.

I watch as the two older children go unnoticed: the twelve year old pre-teen and the nine year old, and I feel a little sorry for them because they aren't so entertaining anymore. Each visit when I realize we are only paying attention to the littles, I feel bad and try to include them with my rote question, "How's school going?" Which brings the rote response, "Good."

But now it's summer and I don't want to be utterly predictable by asking, "How's summer going?"

To be entertained requires thinking from the recipient.

Last visit, the three of us figured it all out.

Part way through the visit, the nine year old asked if I wanted to hear her play the cello. I did and accompanied her to her room, but between the two of us, the cello migrated its way to the family room--where the nine y.o. and the twelve y.o, commanded a little attention for themselves.

"Ah you see," I told my loved ones, "the older you are, the harder you have to work for some attention."

They insta smiled AND laughed because they got it.

"When you're a one year old, all you have to do is walk and smile to charm the snake, but from you, you are required to share your talents."

But it shouldn't be about sharing talents for attention, but instead about developing talents to fulfill one's dharma.

Kenneth Cope in The Great Work of Your Life, takes his readers on a clear path to understanding one's dharma. Dharma is an individual's work in life. It is distinctly hers that no one else can do. Most of us spend too much time resisting our dharma or at least trying to figure it out. Once we embrace what has always been ours, we find true happiness. In the meantime, a lot of wasted time is spent trying to get "attention."

Cope writes, "Studying the lives of great exemplars of dharma has helped me see the primary distortion in my dharma life has been the age-old misery of self-absorption. Deep in midlife I had begun to feel the awful burden of wanting to be special; wanting to be better; wanting to be, as we sometimes call the expanded self."

Cope quotes the 20th century monk Thomas Merton, "(the chief source of spiritual exhaustion), is the selfish anxiety to get the most out of everything, to be a sparkling success in our own eyes and in the eyes of other men...we cannot achieve greatness unless we lose all interest in being great. For our own idea of greatness is illusory, and if we pay too much attention to it we will be lured out of the peace and stability of the being God gave us, and seek to live in a myth we have created for ourselves. It is therefore, a very great thing to be little, which is to say; to be ourselves."

Cope finishes the chapter with this monk's dharma: his purpose in life, was said to be this: to support the choir. In Latin propter chorum. Literally, his life was lived in support of the choir. He was not a soloist. He was not a diva. He was part of the magnificent whole."

So perhaps, attention getting actions are only acceptable for toddlers, and this is how we slowly move to the background to slowly attain the greater reward--the acceptance of our selves, which only requires acceptance from ourselves.