Monthly Archives

March 2015


A Metro Song.


A while back we were riding on the metro and my oldest daughter was sitting with her friend, both gazing out the window, their commute home on a Tuesday afternoon. I listened to them complain of this or that, things about their day, the school, the other kids. We were on the elevated line, line 6, that cruises high above the 15th arrondissement and crosses the Seine on the high tracks looking down on the busy streets and into windows of facing buildings and halfway across the river, looking back on the opening vista of the city, my daughters friend turns and says, “even though I’ve lived here all my life, I never get tired of looking out these windows.”

Yesterday walking down rue Dragon, there is this noise, unusual, some avant-garde sound that grows louder. As a man nears, I realize it’s him whistling. My dog is perplexed, she prances on her hind legs the more to figure it out. The whistler notices. I say, “she must think you are whistling for her.” He says, “she must think I am speaking her language.”

On the narrow sidewalk, a girl on a unicycle is riding toward me early Sunday morning so casually you’d think everyone was up doing it.

There is a guy singing in the metro. We’re down a few halls but I can hear him. Strong rich voice growing stronger as we near. A song about love. He’s giving it all there in the La Motte Pic metro on a dark and rainy morning at 8:10am. And I remember him. I’ve heard him before and been impressed before. I want to stop and take out a few coins but we pass swiftly like everyone else needing to get where we are going.

I’m in Darty ordering a washing machine, but it’s a complicated transaction. Someone overhears me, asks if she can help, this stunning British girl like she walked out of 60’s London. She orders my machine, my vacuum, then later we run into each other again at a cafe around the corner. We laugh about her saving my domestic life.

In the G20 grocery, a French woman crowds me in the produce section, I make my space, then at the avocado bin, she sees me pinching the avos. At the moment I think she might reprimand me, she asks me how I choose good ones. In French I say, not too soft, not too hard, look for the darker skins. She finds two and puts them in her basket.

When the dog needs to go out or when we are suddenly out of milk or when someone must be walked to the library, it always seems such a pain to… do it all once again, to put on everything, to freshen up, face it and look decent, and get out the door.

But once out the door: All those stunning little moments of engagement.

“Remember how we used to love, baby, Love like it was everything… Baby you and me, we’ll change the game.” DM

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Une autre, s’il vous plait. (another one, please.)

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Life is a series

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of interesting rendez-vous

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in beautiful cafes.

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Pinch me, baby.

Before we moved from Canada, Andrew and I agreed that we would live the first few months in St. Germain des Pres, our favorite part of Paris, surrounded by cafes and cinemas, next to the most beautiful garden, the Luxembourg. Then, once we had found out where the girls might go to school, we’d look for a more permanent place close to there. It all seemed to make sense then, in the dawn of our fresh arrival. But when the chosen school turned out to be over in the 16th, we blanched. The 16th? That was for the noveau riche, for old ladies with servants, for diplomats with drivers. We hedged. We looked at apartments in the 7th, we could walk over the bridge, right? We were desperate to keep close to our favorite cafes, our favorite twisting streets.

In the end, we’ve accepted our right bank fate. A friend who lives there patted our backs, and said, “Exile. It’s not all true what you hear.” As the day of St. Germain departure nears, we feverishly look on the map, find solace in swift metro routes, imagine new parks, try to convince ourselves that the 16th is not Siberia. “It’s only 20 minutes back here. We can come back over whenever we like” we nod in unison.

The quest for the right apartment became ever more vital.

I might win an Academy Award for my performance in “finding the fitting apartment.” As it is said that finding an apartment that checks off your requirements – perfect location, almost affordable, park nearby, available, and if you’re lucky, fully renovated – is considered impossible. But the ‘gods of the apartments’ (as seen in many paintings in the Louvre) shone their favor from on high, or Mt. Apartonomous, and the most unbelievable part of all, is the terrace. A terrace that spans the length of the living room with doors that open wide onto a lavish garden below. Or secret garden, you might say, as there’s no access, except one day a year when we all gather for the highly anticipated building garden party. But not to worry, we envision our terrace as the oasis the garden can be, or at least, we’ll plant some flowers in pots and flop down some butterfly chairs.

In other words, I found an apartment we all can love, with an amazing view and a terrace. Now, I see terraces everywhere. Once you start looking at specific things in Paris, you realize how much you never notice. For instance, this morning, since the sky was brilliantly blue, I decided to go visit all the parks in my arrondissement. So, around the corner to Square Roger Stephane, that no one seems to know about. It’s an oasis and the terraces looking onto this garden – fantastic. I continued to make an inventory of the terraces nearby: some shine with well pruned shrubs, some with lemon and orange trees, one with many palm trees, preferences tending toward the Mediterranean. You should see some of the terraces around the Luxembourg. One has a very large pine tree. Luckily, it is the top apartment as the tree is quite tall.

6th or 16th. What does it really matter? We’re all in unison here sitting in the cafes, on terraces… the Japanese magnolias blooming, flowers everywhere, and it was warm and sunny today with girls lunching on the grasses in Square Boucicaut. Maybe we’re all a bit loopy in Paris right now because it’s officially spring and even though the city was the most polluted city in the world last Wednesday, so bad that the metros are free and you can only drive if you have a certain numbered plate, still…Saturday night, we went to a friends house to celebrate the launch of Spring with Persian food in the company of expats, and the next day we took our dog to the Luxembourg as a treat for her birthday. A little shnouzer named Celeste wanted to play so they did their thing of fall back/punt right/roll over then with a wave, they wished Skye bon anniversaire. We skipped back home via rue Ferou where the gray stone walls are painted in elegant scrolling script. A few lucky ducks can spy this script of Rimbaud’s poem “Le Bateau Ivre” from their terraces.




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Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the …. Luxembourg.


Sunday morning, we’re all eventually dressed and out the door, heading over to the Musee Cluny, our friends here visiting from Canada. We take the scenic route, cutting thru the market on rue Raspail, shoppers fill the stalls of cheese makers and the produce stalls; it’s fun to see the kids taking it all in. We emerge from the crowds and take rue Vaugirard toward the Luxembourg gardens. Andrew and I had been here earlier this morning doing our weekend jog. There are more runners now doing the loop around. The lawns are green and there are some trees in bloom with delicate pink clusters. The garden changes every time you visit it. The weather, the season, the mix of people, where you’re going, whom you’re with.

When we visit New York, it’s usually the street life that makes the greatest impression. The mix of people from all walks of life working together, sitting on park benches, waiting in line in the great melting pot. Buying a hotdog from the  street vendor, along with the Wall St. bankers, fashionistas, students, kids with nannies, bus drivers, everyone mixing/mingling, eyeing each other, commenting, accepting, condemning, ignoring all at a glance, creates an energy. And a pretty full-on sense of humor.

It’s the same back here in Paris when you’re out on the rues, immersed in street life, summing up metro situations, judging status, appraising style, overhearing conversations, jumping to conclusions. It’s the kick and flow of meeting strangers looking for the metro, then realizing you’re all Americans and where are you staying, what are you doing, did you know… what do you think… I’ve been there too!… say hello to your cousins for me.. or .. a street moment with a Parisian whose dog likes the smell of your dog, then Bonjour/hello, what kind of dog, how long in Paris, what do you think about… this/that, sharing stories on the corner of rue des Sevres.

The kids want to sail a boat in the basin of the pool in front of the Palais de Luxembourg. There is a strong wind that pushes the miniature boats swiftly across, children with sticks run to bat them back in other directions. Parents watch shivering a bit in the chilly air. We go into the garden cafe with its lacy curtains to get warm. Families are crowded together giving their lunch orders. Some child’s balloon bobs on the ceiling in the warm air. We finish our cafe cremes and walk outside where a crowd has gathered in front of a band playing Irish tunes. I kick my boots in the dirt and dance to the music.

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How to Find Your Perfect Paris Apartment.


First, get into your lululemons, put on some medieval monk music, light some candles, then just say the following, “I accept the insufficiencies of small refrigerators, the drawbacks of asking children to share bedrooms, and the shortage of arm room in my kitchen” and then chant the following, “Small closets are virtuous. Cooking in cupboards is noble. Upstairs neighbors who like parties is a beautiful thing.” Plus, you should add, “Unusual lighting fixtures are definitely a bonus in my life.”

Then get on the net, place an ad, hire an agent, scroll the real estate listings, pour over websites. Try Lodgis or Seloger or, where you rent directly from owners, mention your search specs to your friends who will laugh at you, then tell everyone they know, then the couple at the next table and before you know it, people approach you in the street, “I heard you were looking for that perfect apartment” they say then walk away shaking their heads snickering. Just ignore that and go try the house chablis or bordeaux at the local. It’s all about keeping appearances at this stage.

Like dating, looking for an apartment can involve adjusting your expectations to match what’s in front of you. The classic build, the heroic stature, the strong fortification comes down to, will the loo flush, can I fit my couch through the door, is there a place down the street to buy some milk and bread? The early vision of impeccable parquet floors and archways and high mouldings will transform into mathematical equations of lists of pros and cons. Yeah, he’s pretty cute, but can he cook?… kind of thing.

Nobody said it was going to be easy. And there will be much lashing and nashing of teeth and all that apocalyptic stuff, but you’ll keep your zen. Because you are samurai. You cannot be swayed by these small limbs that tangle the way to sanctuary, or at least to a two bedroom under 3,000 euros a month. For in the end, home is where you put your beret, and as time does its magical trick, in a few weeks, you will grow accustomed to the clanging of the shutters at 6am and the thrums of the subway underneath your bed and the oh, so Paris perfect particularities of your own home sweet home.

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A weekend in Burgundy.


As I mentioned in the last post, here in Paris, it’s the first ‘les vacances’ or holiday, (when all the kids are out of school for 2 weeks) and though we hung out the first week and had some nice get-togethers here at home the second week, we were, in the end, able to pull together a short trip and so last Friday at 6am, we stumble out of bed, shoulder our backpacks and catch the 87 bus to the Gare du Lyon, where we grab a few coffees and croissants and find our 6:59am TGV train to Montbard amongst the platforms of big waiting trains. We step on, the doors close and the train pulls out of the station. Good timing.

If you’ve ever ridden the fast trains in France, you’ll know the hushed quiet of the cars and the pleasing feeling of floating through the landscape to your destination. Montbard 8am, only a few people get off at the station, it’s quiet outside, but there are a few cab men talking around their taxis, we interrupt to get one to drive us to the garage where the owners are just opening. A few minutes later, in our little Peugot, we’re zipping along narrow winding roads, green fields on either side, medieval villages atop hills in the distance. Yeah, this is what we were looking for – cows sipping green grasses, misty air, and nobody around. Except for some monks walking the dirt lanes with their dogs. We follow signs to Flavigny-sur-oisne, our destination and get out to smell clean crisp licorice air. My youngest cannot believe it.


Flavigny is the town, population 301, where said monks make my favorite mints. Well, really licorice ‘mints’ but they come in lavendar, rose and other flavors too. If you know me, you know I like to have mints around. This particular habit dates back to the Nashville years when I would buy these, ‘les Anis de Flavigny’ at the little upscale Jewish sandwich shop in Belle Meade. They were $3.00 and I was a sucker for the oval tins decorated in pretty colors with little scenes of village life on the lid. When you opened them, you always wanted to see how many you had left. As the girls got older, they’d been coveting these tins for years. The day I gave my youngest a few of the ‘Mommy mints,’ as she had long ago dubbed them, was the awakening of another McQueen mint girl.

She says as she pops some into her mouth. Turns out the town looks just as picturesque as it’s portrayed on those tins. I guess that’s why the girls don’t seem to mind roaming around on foot for hours. We call it to their attention that they ARE hiking. (and not just suggesting it after looking at pastoral paintings in the d’Orsay) They ignore us and keep walking along the puddle-y road we’ve found that goes along the Oisne river down in the valley. We’ve met some horses and some sheep, which our dog Skye is highly skeptical about. She’s off leash and to our surprise, she listens to us, turning her head back every now and again to see if she’s going the right way. And when in a village, make friends. One of her friends hikes with us and waits by the door of our gite in case we go again. We hike these farm roads and follow medieval walls and ramparts and we all get pretty muddy, but we get a good sense of the countryside around Flavigny.

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The next day is sunny and warmish so we set out and visit a myriad of other little hill towns, other medieval castles, and wander through quiet streets and since at night I’m reading a historical novel set in Burgundy, I keep imagining characters from the book and since the girls are still reading the series about cats and clans in forests, the landscape triggers our imaginations all the while we’re munching on mints. We get back to Paris late Sunday night. It’s raining and Gare du Lyon is packed with people rolling suitcases and strapped with bags. We grab a cab on the boulevard.

* Recommends –

The Chateau du Bussy-Rabutin, a lesser known castle, sitting in a very small village on a hill, with a long entertaining corridor filled with paintings of the Dukes of Burgundy all wearing a variety of fancy collars and a variety of dour expressions. The gardens are great too. Plus there is a maze that took a while to walk through! The girls love mazes.

The Abbaye de Fontenay – Andrew’s favorite. Set in a peaceful small valley with a winding brook.

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