Thursday, February 28, 2013

Not Dead Yet

Women of are certain age often complain about becoming invisible. All we get is a courteous "m'am" from gas station attendants and grocery store checkers.  Not so in Paris.  Case in point "the amorous grocer" in my quartier last year.

The first time that I visited l'épicerie, the grocer declared my accent "charmant" and confessed that he was fond of Canadians. This grocery was not my usual grocery but was on my way home from my classes. The second time that I visited, the grocer followed me through the store and kissed me on both cheeks. After that, I sent each of my visiting friends to his store for groceries and a little bit of gallic charm.

At my local street market, there was the Lebanese traiteur. Good-looking older man who always put a little extra in my order "pour le plaisir."  I visited his stall every market day and introduced all of my contingent of Canadian visitors. He introduced us to his son who had studied business in America.

The woman of "a certain age" is not invisible in Paris. Neither I nor any of my visitors were likely to succumb to the charms of the neighbourhood merchants but it was flattering to us and didn't hurt their business at all.

The gallic charm is sincere. Good-looking men of "a certain age" notice women of the same age.  The charming French men are probably married with grandchildren but that has nothing to do with it.  Being alone in my travelling life, I'm never sure what it all means but it does make life more interesting.
I love theNot Dead Yet Visible Monday for helping us all to become more visible.

But I'm married!

Playing with Colour:Galician Green

Camino de Santiago
Add caption
The Way

The Echoing Green

The sun does arise,
And make happy the skies;
The merry bells ring
To welcome the spring;
The skylark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around
To the bell's cheerful sound,
While our sports shall be seen
On the Echoing Green.

Old John with white hair,
Does laugh away care,
Sitting under the oak,
Among the old folk.
They laugh at our play,
And soon they all say:
'Such, such were the joys
When we all, girls and boys,
In our youth time were seen
On the Echoing Green.'

Till the little ones, weary,
No more can be merry;
The sun does descend,
And our sports have an end.
Round the laps of their mothers
Many sisters and brother,
Like birds in their nest,
Are ready for rest,
And sport no more seen
On the darkening Green.

By William Blake
Spring is coming. These are pictures of Galicia in northern  Spain. I took them near Astorga.

I Love Colour:Paris Pinks

Have you seen the book Paris in Color by Nichole Robertson?  The images are lovely.  I bought the book last year and have been playing with colour in my own photos. I am very much a novice photographer but I love colour.

What Is Pink?

Christina Rossetti

What is pink? a rose is pink
By the fountain’s brink.
What is red? a poppy’s red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro’.
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? why, an orange,
Just an orange!
Online text © 1998-2013 Poetry X. All rights reserved.
From Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book | 1893

Mignonne, allons voir si la rose

A Cassandre

Mignonne, allons voir si la rose
Qui ce matin avoit desclose
Sa robe de pourpre au Soleil,
A point perdu ceste vesprée
Les plis de sa robe pourprée,
Et son teint au vostre pareil.

Las ! voyez comme en peu d'espace,
Mignonne, elle a dessus la place
Las ! las ses beautez laissé cheoir !
Ô vrayment marastre Nature,
Puis qu'une telle fleur ne dure
Que du matin jusques au soir !

Donc, si vous me croyez, mignonne,
Tandis que vostre âge fleuronne
En sa plus verte nouveauté,
Cueillez, cueillez vostre jeunesse :
Comme à ceste fleur la vieillesse
Fera ternir vostre beauté.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Separate Vacations

Paris is always in bloom.

In two weeks I will be leaving for Europe. All of my life I have wanted to live there.  I love neighbourhood markets, walking everywhere, speaking another language and watching all the different styles of the people in the streets.  This is the world that I have dreamt of since I was a young girl.

Monsieur Là-bas received his Là-bas moniker because he lived to fool around in French class.  I received the French Government Book Award in high-school. Now that we are retired, I want to live out at least the next five years as a traveller. I collect Aeroplan points and only pay the tax for my flights
and I rent self-catering apartments so that I can prepare most of my own food. Monsieur does not want to visit this year.
I like to eat chez moi.

Last year, mon mari visited Paris for one week. It was French spring break so I had no classes. We travelled to Ypres in Belgium to visit the World War 1 battlefields and we visited Les Invalides to learn more about war history.  We visited subterranean Paris and saw where the city started.  Monsieur loved the carte du jour menus and complained about the weather.  Frankly, I love Paris so much that I never notice the weather other than to enjoy the ever-changing colours of the Jardin du Luxembourg. Monsieur's early reluctance to learn French limits his independence and appreciation of all things French.
Who cares if it's cloudy?

I have not always been free to travel extensively. I am considering my retirement in 5 year plans:
the 60-65 years being the years of travel and independence.  I want to see and do as much as I can. Monsieur, who is 5 years older than I am, prefers to stay home or do a cruise or all-inclusive. So, for now it will be a separate and a together vacation.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Now is the Winter of Our Discontent

Cannery Row, Monterey, California
Monsieur and I are retired together in our 950 square foot apartment.  The weather is grey and we are at our respective computers:me, doing research and pondering blog topics and monsieur, doing something or other. At times, this retirement togetherness is too much of a good thing.

I am a domestic, family-oriented person who enjoys reading and writing, watching "quiet little movies"
and puttering about.  Monsieur doesn't read fiction, watches action movies and is not the least bit interested in household tasks. I am small and curvy and so prefer to eat salads, veggies and fish.  Monsieur devours chips and cookies, two things that I never eat.  I prefer quiet a lot of the time.  Have you ever listened to nonstop Sports Talk radio? So, here we are living the week-end that never ends.

Are older men and women meant to share a cave?  We are very different in our tastes and activities.  Monsieur and I have no children or grandchildren together. Although we have lived together for 18 years, our home  reflects more of me than of my husband because I enjoy collecting, decorating and caring for the nest. Monsieur finds belongings difficult to manage and care for. He has a box of cords and some giant black amplifiers for his music.

Wine-tasting and golfing holiday in October
Fortunately, we love each other in spite of it all and joke and laugh at what seem to be our irreconcilable differences. He calls them "alternate universes". In two weeks, I will travel to Europe for 10 weeks and when I return, the weather will no longer be grey.  Monsieur will be renting a small studio where he can practise his music  and will be golfing and hiking. We will be planning our "together" holiday for the fall. The grey time will have passed.

Swimming with the dolphins

Purchases for My Trip

A dressier outfit for the city
In May, after my time in Paris, I am meeting my sister in Prague to take a river cruise on the Danube River.  We will be on the AMA Dolce visiting Prague, Salzburg, Vienna and Budapest. I like to wear skirts in spring and summer and I found these two outfits at Circa Ici in Vancouver. May can be either cool or warm so layering will be best. I have a lot of thin t-shirts and shells in ivory, beige and coral so any of them will work for layering.  I will take beige capris and trousers as well as my coral jeans. With a bit of switch about, I should have plenty to wear. The two skirts, the cardigan and t-shirt are by Gerry Weber International, a brand that I have not worn before.  I bought other "smart casual"clothing at Circa Ici  a few years ago and while it is more expensive, I have worn these items a lot and they will be coming with me to Europe.

This will be bright and cheery for travel or summer barbecues
I visited the Circa Ici website and found that a House of Gerry Weber store is opening in Ambleside in West Vancouver. It will carry their International line (sizes 2-18) and a Women's line.  Gerry Weber
is a German brand and I find that it fits me well.

Flowers in spring and summer make me feel pretty and happy.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Revisiting May Sarton

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
'Hurry, you will be dead before-'
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!
-May Sarton

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Laurie Colwin

I am visiting my books in boxes these days.  Before I retired, we renovated and redecorated our 40 year old apartment.  Monsieur wanted me to part with my books but there were some (several Rubbermaid bins full) that I knew I would spend time with in retirement.

Did anyone read Laurie Colwin in the 1980's?  She was an American author who wrote novels, short stories and cookbooks.  Much of the charm of her work lay in the details of quotidian life. She coined a term "domestic sensualist." I own The Lone Pilgrim, Happy all the Time and Another Marvellous Thing  and  I borrowed her nonfiction books from the library. I enjoyed the warmth and humour of Colwin's writing. Unfortunately, Laurie Colwin died in her sleep when she was only 48.  I did some research and found that I am not the only reader who recalls Colwin's  works fondly. I found interesting articles about Colwin's writing:
The New Homemaker
Apartment Therapy
The Kitchn
Although Laurie Colwin has been  dead for twenty years, it seems that her books are still cherished by many. When I enjoyed the books long ago, there was no online community of readers with whom to share my delight. Rereading our books can be like visiting long lost friends. What books have you kept to reread?
What books have brought you pleasure a second time?
Laurie Colwin

Friday, February 22, 2013

I'm Going to Visit the Queen

I'm going to visit the Queen on March 14 in London. Well actually, I'm going to see the play The Audience at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End. Helen Mirren is one of the most versatile actresses of our time.  She is revising her movie role in the play which features the weekly meetings between Her Majesty and her 12 Prime Ministers.

The play begins with a very young Elizabeth meeting with the senior statesman, Winston Churchill. The role is being played by three young actresses. The play follows the course of the reign of Elizabeth II  (by coincidence I was born the year of the Queen's ascension to the throne) until the present day. Mirren will play the older Elizabeth. The play will be recorded and  broadcast in movie theatres throughout the world on June 13.

I purchased a theatre package in London and will be dining at Salvador and Amanda in Covent Garden before the show.  I will be staying at the Lime Tree Hotel near Victoria Coach Station and will be leaving the following morning  on the Eurostar for Paris. I can hardly wait.

Armchair Travel

 Emily Dickinson said,"There is no frigate like a book." As two of my favourite activities are reading and travel, my fondness for the literary or armchair travel genre will not come as a surprise. An entire shelf of my bookcase is dedicated to this form of literary locomotion.  Whenever I want to escape the "grisaille", I find vicarious adventure between the pages of a book.

One of my favourites is Paris in Mind, a compilation of essays, book excerpts, articles and journals by American authors (and Canadian-born Saul Bellow). One of the excerpts that I found interesting was from Langston Hughes' autobiography The Big Sea where the author describes his arrival in Montmartre with only five dollars.  When he looks for a job, he is constantly asked if he sings or plays an instrument.

A House Somewhere:Tales of Life Abroad recounts the adventures of those who were already living my dream when I bought the book a few years ago. It's hard to imagine that now I am living like a cuckoo in other people's nest for part of the year. I liked the story of Mort Rosenblum, a special correspondent for Associated Press based in Paris.He took over a beat-up houseboat, La Vieille, (the name says a lot) and has lived on the Seine for many years, building friendships with an ill-assorted group of neighbours.

The third book is The Unsavvy Traveler:Womens' Comic Tales of Catastrophe which is an anthology of  selected travel mishaps and situations. Have you ever wondered why these unexpected adventures always make your best travel tales?  My first husband and I, having already run out of money in the days before ATM machines, missed the plane in Rome on our honeymoon. The Roman holiday has become one of my best stories.  All of these tales are hilarious.

I am fortunate in my life to have grown up in a family who enjoyed travel. On a road  trip, my dad would stop at every historic signpost.  Travel was regarded by my family as the ultimate form of education.  Even when my dad was sick, my mother drove, unloaded the car, and laughed off the concerns of others so that Dad could have one last trip. When I can no longer travel, I hope to have my armchair, my books and my memories to transport me.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Blogging 101

I have been writing this blog for a month now. My years of teaching are reflected in my approach to blogging.  Continuous progress and self assessment are important to me. As I am retired, I have the time
to write every day.  My goal is to write four or five paragraphs that are clearly written and interesting.
My topic could be fashion, travel, or some random personal reflection on day-to-day living.

"SMART goals" are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time framed. Losing 3 pounds before I go to Paris in 3 weeks is a "smart goal".  Losing 30 pounds isn't. My page view  statistics can provide me with some feedback but as a new blogger, I am only beginning to build a following. Some day's topics will attract more readers than others. My musings are a reflection of me and so could range from a favourite lipstick to the meaning of life.  That's who I am.

I have been reading blogs for about 8 months and I now have a list of blogs that I follow daily. I look forward to visiting the hostessmaterfamiliasla duchesse, and déjà pseu. While there are thousands of blogs out there, something about these women resonates with me. It is more than good writing, attractive layout, great photos and 3 or 4 years of blogging experience that draws me to read these blogs. It is the ability of each of these bloggers to create a sense of connection and community through 
writing about day-to-day activities.

At this stage, I struggle with layout.  Using the basic template, do I want to add this gadget or that? How do I import this photo from a webarchive format or should I take my own photo? M. Là-bas laughs when he sees me setting up my table or laying clothing on the bed to photograph. Like many others who struggle with some insecurity, I have a hard time with photos of myself. I never seem to look "just right." I'm sure that these technical issues will disappear with experience.

My mother asked me why numbers or comments were important to me.  While I am writing for myself, I am also writing to participate in a community. As I said earlier, my goal is to write about interests, ideas, fashion or even mundane things ( in the best "mondaine" sense of the word) in a manner that "strikes a chord" with some readers some days.

Since I have been writing this blog, I have been more reflective about my daily living. It is almost like living some days twice. There is the "living" part and the "writing about it "part. Being me, I always wonder about something. That's really not just my writing style. Think about how literary "letter writers" like Madame de Sevigné reflect the ideas and lifestyles of their  times.  Do you think that some future readers will read blogs of the twenty-first century to better understand our times? If you travel to Paris, be sure to visit the Musée Carnavalet in the Marais. Access to the permanent collection and the beautiful gardens is free to all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spring Awakening

Last night, I went to see a musical, "Spring Awakening", at a local college/university. I was shocked at the explicit nature of the play, written in Germany in 1891 and adapted to a successful Broadway musical in 2006. The musical, written by Duncan Sheik and Stephen Sater, won NewYork Critics' Circle Awards, several Tony Awards, and Laurence Olivier Awards and is currently being performed around the world.  The student production that I saw was excellent.

The musical follows a group of 11 adolescent boys and girls dealing with sexual stirrings. Think Grade 9 kids.  Considering that the original play was written in the 19th century, it is amazing that the issues and feelings were so relevant today. At the opening of the play, Wendla, the female lead, complains that her mother will not talk to her about reproduction.  The other girls have the same complaint.  The boys are having erotic dreams and believe that they must be going insane. The play deals with masturbation, sexual abuse, abortion, homosexuality and finally teen-age suicide. It is alternative-rock, loud and raunchy.

What is disturbing to me is the role of the adults in this play.  The schoolteachers punish and humiliate the students in an attempt to control "the awakening experience." The pastor speaks of guilt, sin and shame. Parents who fear the judgement of the community end up losing their children to suicide and a botched abortion. None of the adults in the play is capable of understanding  the suffering of these children.

I attended this play with a group from my Church at the suggestion of the minister. We will be having a discussion group next week. Adolescence is a time of uncertainty and vulnerability. What can we as individuals and as a society do to facilitate a smoother transition for our youth?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Jean-Paul and Simone (The Seventies)

As a student in the French Department in the 1970's, I studied Huis-Clos, Les Mouches, and Les Jeux sont Faits. As a young girl from the suburbs ( une véritable bourgeoise), these works impressed me greatly although I can now readily admit that I didn't fully understand the philosophical background. But I decided at this time that I wanted to be a French existentialist. I would live in a tiny apartment in Paris,
do no domestic chores for any man and I would smoke gitanes or gauloises. I would live my life like Simone de Beauvoir.

During this time, I watched an interesting film interview of the couple.The film was produced by Radio-Canada in 1967 and included footage of both Sartre's and de Beauvoir's apartments in Montparnasse.  Sartre's apartment overlooked  La Cimetière Montparnasse where the two are buried side by side. I always visit cemeteries in Paris because they are so rich in cultural history.

The more complex aspects of both the relationship and the philosophy obviously eluded me because I
married an accountant, lived in a split-level house and had a daughter.  I know that I am not secure enough to handle "contingent relationships." I like decorating, cooking and puttering about at home.  During Simone and J-P's first separation when both were posted to teaching jobs in different areas of France, Simone walked many miles on the weekends to overcome her loneliness.  During my first solo visit to France, when my first marriage ended and I was not yet in a secure relationship, I walked for so many miles around the tiny village of Montaigut-le-Blanc in the Auvergne, that I wore out my shoes and had to borrow a pair of of tennis shoes that I called "my Simone shoes."

I travelled along the Boulevard Montparnasse almost every day during last year's visit to Paris because my classes were held in nearby Reid Hall.  I shopped in the shops, visited the Edgar Quinet market near  Montparnasse station and often enjoyed a glass of wine in a bistro. The Closerie des Lilas, La Coupole, Le Select and La Rotonde, restaurants popular in the heyday of the area, still  line the Boulevard Montparnasse. Probably little has changed since the time of Simone and Jean-Paul.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Almost Invisible Monday

Fading into the sofa
I am really not used to being photographed.  This was the best of 10 tries.  Our apartment is east facing so lighting is a problem. I am really a warm colour person.  My clothing and obviously my décor clearly indicate this.  I like spirals, paisley and soft lines best. I bought this necklace at the Renée Taylor Gallery in Sedona, Arizona.  It is made by women in South Africa of copper and bronze and is a Fair Trade piece
I love spirals and soft lines.
Chanel is my favourite line of makeup but I am addicted to Bohemian Gold eyeshadow by Nars. I like to use the Chanel eyeliner pencil Khaki Doré on my eyes and Lise Watier mascara. Right now, I like the faint sheen of Biarritz by Chanel on my lips. I use Précision tinted moisturizer on my face for a bit of protection.
Makeup for my daytime look
I really love comfortable shoes.  There are so many beautiful Spanish and French shoes that they are hard to resist.  I like my feet planted firmly on the ground   (well sort of) so high heels are really not my thing.

Fashion has always interested me as an exercise in combining different elements to create an individual style. Looking at the Visible Monday page, each woman is presenting herself to the world in her own fashion.

New shoes from Lord's Shoes' sale

Village Life Again

I love walking to church.  Yesterday I noticed a rhododendron starting to bloom, some hellebores and daffodils almost in flower.  Winter is short on the West Coast of Canada.  Each day, a few more buds appear. The red-winged blackbirds are back on the dyke and if you look carefully, you will spot some pussywillows.
Crocus in the Jardin du Luxembourg

The sermon yesterday was about The Good Samaritan.  The minister spoke of her own experiences working in Vancouver's downtown East Side, Canada's poorest neighbourhood. We do create ghettos of the poor so that we don't have to see them. However, the poor are always with us.  Mum and I went to visit the Food Bank where one of my friends volunteers.  The Food Bank in our suburban neighbourhood serves about 1500 people.  Many of the clients are working families with children.

I always stay after church for tea where I meet different people each week. As I no longer work, I think that it is important for me to replace my school community with another community in which I can participate in a meaningful way.  Early retirement is certainly a time for making meaning in our lives.

I started attending church when my dad was in Acute Care in the hospital. I found peace and strength there.  I prayed for an end to my dad's suffering and that our family could accept his passing
when the time came. I have not joined the Church because I feel that membership in a congregation is a serious commitment for which I am not ready.

In Paris, I have gone to services at Notre-Dame and at St. Jacques-de-Haut-Pas with my friend Mary who is Catholic.  A member at my Church suggested that  I attend the American Episcopal Cathedral in Paris which is known for its rich history and arts programme. I have also been considering The American Church near the Quai d'Orsay which is interdenominational. Free musical concerts are held every Sunday at 17h at The American Church as well as pilates, zumba and yoga.   As I plan to live in Paris for a few months every year,  I would like to carry on my regular activities in my other home.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My Life in Paris Movies (English)

My parents subscribed to the Capitol Record Club in the 1950's  and musical theatre productions were their favourite genre.  Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan sang with the first French accents that I had ever heard.  The year was 1958 and "Gigi" was the movie. The costumes were lovely, the settings were opulent and Leslie Caron was sooo French. It was an innocent time and nobody bothered about the fact that this young girl was being groomed to be a courtesan. The scenes between Maurice and Hermione Gingold as former lovers were especially endearing.

The next record that I remember Mum and Dad receiving was "Cancan" (1960).  The setting was Montmartre where I shall living for part of my time in Paris. Maurice and Louis were back with Frank Sinatra and a very young Shirley Maclaine. Cole Porter's "I Love Paris", "C'est  Magnifique"and "Montmartre" fuelled my enthusiasm to visit "The City of Light".  This year, I will be going to the Moulin Rouge to see "Féerie", the current  production.  It probably is more Las Vegas than 19th century Paris but I am in the neighbourhood.

Time passed and soon I was old enough to go to the movies myself. My favourite movie of 1960's Paris
was "Charade" with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.  Audrey was stylish, Cary was suave and the villains were scary.  There was suspense, chases through Paris, a Givenchy wardrobe and a score by Henry Mancini. I have watched this movie many times but I still enjoy it as much as when I was a teenager.

Movies changed in the 1970's.  I never saw " Last Tango in Paris."  I majored in French at university and my movies became French language films which tended to be darker. The Romantic period was
replaced by "film noir" and "théâtre de l'absurde".  But that will be a different post.

Skipping back further in time, did you ever read the play "Our Hearts were Young and Gay" by Cornelia Otis Skinner? It is the tale of two unworldly girls making the European tour in the 1920's. There was a 1944 movie version of the play but I have never seen it.  I played Emily in our acting class production in 1969.  What are your favourite Paris movie memories?  How far back do they go?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Into a Paris Quartier

In less than a month, I shall be returning to Paris. As I enjoy doing a little research ahead of time, I am currently reading the nonfiction book Into a Paris Quartier by Diane Johnson. Ms Johnson, who lives in
the 6th arrondissement, is also a novelist. She wrote Le Divorce  which became a mildly entertaining movie about the extramarital affairs of the French. Le Divorce received a very poor reception when it was released in 2003 but the cast includes Leslie Caron who, in my opinion, is the perfect French woman.  Think Gigi, An American in Paris, and Chocolat. Good movies for a grey February weekend.

Ms. Johnson outlines the history of her neighbourhood from the days of La Reine Margot who was the first royal resident of the Left Bank. Alexandre Dumas wrote a historical novel, La Reine Margot, in 1854.  It has been translated as Marguerite de Valois and has also been made into a movie three times.  I enjoyed the 1994 version starring Isabelle Adjani and Daniel Auteuil. Queens Marie de Médici, who built the Luxembourg  Palace with its famous gardens, and Anne of Austria, who built Val de Grâce on the Rue St. Jacques, were later residents of the 6th arrondissement
Statue of Marie de Médici 
One of the two apartments that I shall be renting this trip is on the Rue Cherche-Midi, a very long street inhabited by more affluent Parisians. I shall be living at  Number 6 Rue Cherche-Midi, two doors down from the Poilâne bakery at Number 8.  This area is definitely upscale from my last year's rental and I wonder whether it will be as friendly. The sixth arrondissement is convenient to shopping, the Colleges of the University of Paris and to lots of restaurants. The Bon Marché is close to my new apartment.  If you haven't visited La Grande Epicérie de Paris, you must. Last year, my friend Janet and I took a gourmet walking tour of the 6th.  The tour, which started on the Rue Buci, provided us with samples and info about the food shops of the area.

A delicious salad from a restaurant in the 6th
Into a Paris Quartier is providing me with the historical background to my new neighbourhood but I can hardly wait to start my own explorations.

A light movie for a grey February afternoon might be Forget Paris (1995) with Billy Crystal and Debra Winger.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Funny Valentine

My funny Valentine, Monsieur Là-bas, is a goofy kind of guy. He balances my tendency to be " over-earnest and to think too much". While I am the "good girl", he is the "naughty boy". The Là-bas" name came from his high school French teacher who was constantly trying to get the boy in the corner to pay attention. I have been that French teacher and I often shake my head when Monsieur seems to not have heard a thing that I said.  I also talk a lot.

Monsieur, on the other hand, is very kind.  He will be spending his Valentine's afternoon singing at the Care Home where his 93 year old mother lives.  Singing with the elderly is one of Monsieur's retirement activities.  My dad's last year in Extended Care was brightened by Friday pub afternoon when Brian and Jim, his friend, came to sing.  Tonight, he invited my mum to come to dinner with us because it is her first Valentine's as a widow.

Monsieur and I have not spent our entire lives together. We spent 9 years living apart when my daughter was young, 9 years cohabiting and have been married 9 years. My days have never been dull.

Monsieur Là-bas,  je t'aime.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Paris is a Moveable Feast

Yesterday, I met my sister for dinner at Café Salade de Fruits which is located in the French Cultural Centre. The dinner was a belated birthday gift from my sister.  We do not go out often together as we live in far apart suburbs and my sister is still working. We arrived early and chose La Table des Hôtes menu.  As I never cook rabbit,  I chose le lapin farci (stuffed with pork and mushrooms) which came with a winter salad and lots of fresh vegetables.  My sister had the trout with shrimp which also had a generous accompaniment of vegetables. The tables filled up by 7:00 but the restaurant never got too loud. As Monsieur was picking me up at 9:30, we lingered over dessert and coffee.

The French Cultural Centre is a great place in Vancouver to borrow French books and movies, attend French classes, enjoy French entertainers or meet with francophones/francophiles. If you enjoy French drama, you can attend plays in the same building by the dramatic company, Théâtre de la Seizième.  Salade de Fruits even offers a Dinner and a Play package.

A dinner dress with a jacket aways feels grownup
I love to visit Paris but when I need a "quick fix", I like to visit Paris in Vancouver. What do you do when you need a little Paris in your life? For indeed, as Hemingway said, "Paris is a moveable feast"

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Paris Years of Rosie Kamin

I love to read books about Paris. I own many: nonfiction books, fiction books, classics and coffee table books.  I just finished reading a novel, The Paris Years of Rosie Kamin by Richard Telecky. Rosie is living in Paris to escape her Jewish-American family life.  She shares a small and dark apartment with her lover Serge in a neighbourhood of immigrants. Richard Telecky's strongpoint in this novel is description. Through the use of detail, he creates a quartier that appeals to the reader's senses. Rosie's neighbourhood is filled with the tastes and smells of North Africa and the Middle East.

There are many loose ends in Rosie's life which begins to show signs of unravelling with the illness of her partner. She had been unaware of her mother's unhappiness which led to suicide. Her sister describes the entire Kamin family as dead. She is ambivalent when visited by an old lover and only slightly disturbed by memories of an earlier abortion. She has no insight into her closest friends' lives.  The climax of the novel is when Rosie realizes that she did not even know that Serge, her partner, had suffered an earlier breakdown and was dying of liver failure.

This is not a novel of Paris "The City of Light" but of a dark grey Paris of squatters, purse snatchers and dog shit. As Rosie, the refugee living in a neighbourhood of immigrants, develops more self-awareness, she connects more closely with those around her and realizes that she really is home.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Learning to Love Ourselves

It's hard to have my picture taken
I really hate to have my picture taken.  I become so self-conscious that it is frightening. My mouth forms into a grimace, my chin protrudes.  I am never satisfied with my image. Something that attracts me to the world of blogging, as it relates to women my age, is seeing "normal" women.  When we look in a magazine or in media, we see images of women 30 years younger who have been chosen for certain attributes.  They have been styled and polished for a photo shoot.  Photos can be altered for perfection.  A far cry from smiling into the camera  or a photo taken by Monsieur.  What we need to do is to accept and love ourselves despite our crooked smiles or extra pounds.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My Paris Neighbourhood or How I am Decorating My New Room

Here the pilgrims rest
Last year, I lived on the Rue St. Jacques in the 5th arrondissement (Left Bank near the Latin Quarter) in Paris for five months. Rue St. Jacques is one of the oldest streets in Paris. It follows one of the original Roman roads and was the beginning of the French route of the Camino de Santiago de Compostella.  The Tour St. Jacques on the other side of the Seine is the starting point of the this route. The church on the next block from me is St Jacques du Haut Pas where pilgrims worshipped on their way to Santiago.  The sidewalk has the coquille (shell) that marks the way. As I walked the last 100km. of the Camino, I have been at the start and the finish of the French Way (just not in the middle).

My neighbourhood is called Val de Grâce because opposite my apartment is L'église Val de Grâce which was built in the 16th century to celebrate the birth of Louis Quatorze (the Sun King).  His mother was childless for a long time so she wanted to say thanks to God. During the French Revolution, the Church became a military hospital.  There is a great little museum about the history of French military medicine in the building.  My square with its fountain and friendly clochard (drunk man) was named for Alphonse Laveran, a French military physician who won a Nobel Prize for discovering that the cause of malaria was protozoa. I studied French culture in my course at the Sorbonne but I learned a lot by looking up the origin of the street names because most streets in Paris are named for famous French people.

The living room is bright and cheery and there is a desk by the window

The apartment that I rented was just a few metres from the square. I loved the location and the layout.
I feel a little sad that I will not be returning "home" this time but I promised my friend, Janet that we will visit le quartier when she comes to visit.  We got to know the locals who greeted me and any Canadians who were with me with "Bonjour, Madame" any of the countless times we met them in the street. French shopkeepers like to stand outside their shops.  I don't know where the idea of unfriendliness began because this was certainly not the case in my neighbourhood.  One of my friends was horrified when the clochard  (our street guy) started talking to me one day.  Actually, he was kind of a friend. I had seen him washing in the Fountain Alphonse Laveran and had averted my eyes when he was performing other bodily functions. When each of my Canadians returned home, I collected their coins in a ziploc and gave them to him.

My friendly grocer and his assistant
The lovely girl at the boulangerie

Aurélie de La Pomme d'Amour

My friend, Janet, was in love with the traiteur (deli man)
There are a grocery store (very important ), a pharmacy (with a pharmacist who comes to Canada for her holidays), a very handsome hairdresser (who tints eyebrows for free), three restaurants (La Pomme d'Amour Crêperie where I ate while I was studying was my favourite) and a boulangerie (bakes and sells freshly baked bread that I could smell when I was waking up.)

My hairdresser ( the roots need a lot of touching up in 5 months
At home, I take the elevator downstairs (in Paris I climb and descend the stairs), get in my car (in Paris I walk) and drive to the shops (fortunately I live near a small suburban village where I do talk to the shopkeepers.) Home is where my husband, daughter and mother live  but the quartier in Paris was my home away from home.

So, why am I not renting the Val de Grâce apartment this year. As my brother, Bob, would say "It's all part of the adventure."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Building a New Room

In an earlier blog, I wrote about Mary Catherine Bateson's book Composing a Further Life. Ms. Bateson compared the Third Age or the years between 55 and 85 to an additional room added on to a preexisting house. No one  adds on to their house without doing some research. Architects may be consulted, decorating magazines studied, websites visited and permits obtained. We do not take our home renovations lightly. We really need to consider how we want to decorate the new room of our lives.

Monsieur and I participated in a Retirement Success Profile session through Continuing Studies at the  University of British Columbia We each completed an online questionnaire of 120 factors known to affect retirement success and we met with counsellor, Susan Curtis, separately and together.  The profile considered our current lives and our expectations for retirement. Unlikely that building an addition to our home would change our whole house. According to this model, employment fulfills 5 important needs: remuneration, status, purpose, time management and community. Just as a room will need doors, windows, floor, ceiling and walls, our retirement plan will need to consider how these needs will be met when we no longer work.

In considering my own profile, after 18 months of retirement, most of my basic needs are being met. I have pensions and savings that provide me with adequate income. As I have spent more than 30 years in libraries,
reading books and sharing my ideas is important to me.  I am writing this blog and attending Philosopher's Cafés to expose myself to new ideas.  Time management is still progressing. Some weeks, I am too busy. For health maintenance and general well-being, I require more scheduled regular exercise. I walk with a friend and visit a personal trainer because I need support in this area (I'm such a teacher). I see my friends and family regularly and have joined a church.  The basic structure of my new room is in place and so what is left is the decorating. The fun part!

Three Weeks Blogging

I have just finished my third week blogging.  I have been writing every day.  I have always wanted to write so this is a focus for me.  I am considering my daily activities and the books that I read as possibilities for new posts. I am making comments on the blogs that I used to just read and I am looking at the qualities that attract me to these sites. For me, it seems to be encountering a likeable blogger with similar interests. Someone who could be my friend.  I am still new to photography so I am working on taking pictures of household objects. I would like to do more outfit of the day posts as I enjoy dressing for the occasion (it may be lunch with mum). Labels like subject headings (I used to be a librarian) are very important to me.
I would appreciate comments and advice from seasoned bloggers (or Ladies of Letters).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Composing a Further Life:The Age of Active Wisdom

Think about putting an addition onto your house.  What will you use the new room for?  Will you buy all new furniture or will you rearrange what you have? Then, think of the "added" 30 years of lifespan that those of us born in the mid-twentieth century have received. Mary Catherine Bateson, begins
Composing a Further Life:The Age of Active Wisdom with this analogy. Ms. Bateson, who was the visiting scholar for the Sloan Center on Ageing and Work at Boston College, interviewed  men and women in the 55-85 age group and used their stories as the basis of her book.

Among my friends, we laugh about feeling like girls despite our years. Sixty is the new forty.  Ms. Bateson would argue that what we really mean is that, sometime long ago, we internalized a concept of what 60 is, based probably on our grandmothers. But our lives have been very different from theirs. Some women of our generation have raised children, some have chosen to work outside the home and some have done both.  I juggled university courses, a teen-age daughter and a new career as a single woman in my forties. Living in an age of advanced technology, we have had more freedom from drudgery than women of earlier times.  Because we live in an age of lifelong learning, we can study and learn new things through Continuing Studies programmes at universities, community centres or online.

What we will put in our new room will be up to us. Composing a further life could mean adding to memories and earlier learning so that our new room will have something of the familiar and something of the new and unexpected. We should welcome people of all ages into our new room: old friends, new friends, and children. As with Bateson's earlier book, Composing a Life, I found this book relevant and easy to read. It gives me inspiration to keep going on my personal renovations.

If you would like to listen to Mary Catherine Bateson speak on this topic, you can visit this

My grandmother and me (circa 1987 aged 80 and 35)
My mother and me (circa 2007 aged 76 and 55)

Merci Madame le Professeur

I just received an e-mail from Mildred Camille, my teacher at Cours de la Civilisation française de la Sorbonne. Mildred is the best teacher that I have ever met. As a 60 year old returning student in a class of 18-23 year olds, I felt uncertain and a little intimidated. I graduated from university long before they were born.

But Madame Camille was  organized and thorough in her teaching and extremely clear and consistent in her expectations. Almost every week, we had a review test on Friday and a written composition for Monday. I have never seen so many thoughtful corrections in any composition.  Madame corrected online and I could tell that sometimes she  had laboured for hours on each page.

I devoted a lot of time to  my studies when I was in France. Any time that I wondered about a turn of phrase, I e-mailed Madame and she replied.  Each week, she made suggestions about museums that we could visit to learn more about French culture.  I was able to make the most of my time in Paris.

As a retired teacher of children and adults, I appreciate the role of the teacher in student success.  Those recommendations of books to read, places to visit and the conversations after class or by e-mail encouraged me to work harder and harder.  Madame's obvious passion for French grammar and literature and her dry humour ignited a similar enthusiasm in me.  I was successful in my studies at the Sorbonne and it was largely due to Madame's presentation. In France, the relationship between teacher and student is a formal one. Although I was probably older than she and had taught for 25 years in Canada, I addressed her as "vous" and "Madame". When I return to France in March, since Mildred will no longer be my teacher, I hope to take her out for a glass of wine.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Freud's Sister

This weekend, I finished a novel that I had purchased in Fairhaven.   Whenever Monsieur and I are returning from the States, we make this our last stop, usually for a light supper.  Monsieur often emerges empty-handed but I usually stock up.  I don't go to chain bookstores but, while on a driving trip, I have to stop at every independent that I encounter.  I even have a bookmark collection.  Do you think that one day, this will be like a matchbook collection?

The novel is Freud's Sister , written by Goce Smilevski and translated from Macedonian by Christina E. Kramer. The historical novel won the European Union Prize for Fiction. I must admit that I knew very little about Freud's family life when I started to read. The narrator is Adolphina, Freud's favourite sister.
Adolphina died in a gas chamber as did Freud's other sisters.  For reasons unknown, Freud had refused his sisters' pleas for exit visas to accompany his family to London.

While Sigmund was his mother, Amalie's "golden Siggy", the sickly Adolphina was an unwanted child. Ignored by the other sisters, Adolphina's companion was her brother who shared his studies with her.  We have a glimpse of the intelligent and sensitive girl she was. When events occurred that tore the two apart, Adolphina found a new friend, Rainer, who suffered from an inexplicable melancholy.  Throughout her life, Adolphina chose  to spend her time with those who suffered from "hysteria"
and "melancholy".  After the loss of her lover and an abortion, Adolphina  committed  herself to an asylum, The Nest, where she shared a room with Klara Klimt, sister of Gustav.

I ask myself after reading this novel if Sigmund's and Adolphina's preoccupation with melancholy and
hysteria are not the same. "Golden Siggy" received the best education possible for a poor family with seven children. Adolphina, the "runt of the litter, did not even receive what passed for an education
for young ladies of the time. In spite of this deficiency, she observed the madness around her and chose the asylum. Perhaps the insanity in the "madhouse" was preferable to that of turn of the century  
Did you know that "hysteria" was once believed to be a "female upset"?

One Month Ago

One month ago, my father died. The first week, we wrote an obituary,visited the funeral home, arranged a venue for a Celebration of Life, and collaborated on a program. We cried, argued, accepted and loved. All of his four children visited old memories, some personal, some shared, all a little bit different. For my mother, it was the loss of her life partner.  She no longer had anyone to "run things by." Her adult life, as she had known it, changed.

After the first week, the rest of us resumed our "normal" activities.  Some of us are retired, others work.
Mum is looking for volunteer work to fill the time now that she does not spend three days a week at the Extended Care Unit. We visit her more often and try to help her to feel more comfortable. Our family goes on without my Dad. Sometimes I stop and think,"It's less than a month."

I guess it's a reminder to keep in touch and keep loving our families while we have them.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


I bought the Quimper fish platter on my first trip to France in 1987. It connected me with Ron and Sue Ramage at the Quimper Inn in Port Townsend
In my home, I often use the word Provenance which basically translates as "where did that come from?" Many of my treasures have been gifts or have been passed on by my family. Some are artifacts purchased by Monsieur and me on our trips together.  I seldom buy anything "souvenirish" when I travel myself.  My memories and a few selected photos are enough for me.

My daughter and her father (mon ancien mari) bought this for Mother's Day in 1985.
My mother has always told us stories about where each of her ornaments has come from.  She is not a woman to purchase such "extras" herself.  In my family, things passed on can not be sold or discarded without first offering them to other family members.  Thankfully, I have a daughter. These objets chronicle the history of my family.  But, at what point is this too much?  My grandmother's Royal Doulton is not my grandmother. I have my own memories of her.  A few weeks ago, I read "Crossing the Bar"by Tennyson from my Dad's old College Survey of English Literature, one of my treasures.  Book=treasure, Royal Doulton figurine not so much.

I love the rich colours of Moorcroft in this vase that belonged to Belle-mère.
My mother chose this tea-set when Princess Elizabeth (the Queen) got married. It's called Royal Bridal Gown.
When I was a girl, it reminded me of fairytales.

I love to dust and rearrange my treasures.  I stop, think and dream. Sometimes I am transported to a different place or time.  Are you a dreamer like me or a minimalist? Do you surround yourself with objects you love and memories you treasure?  Do you share the history with your children? Can this become excessive?