Saturday, March 30, 2013

Une Canadienne errante

Visiting Normandy was an interesting experience for me because of the friendly attitude of the people towards Canadians. Our hotel, the Churchill Hotel, flew a small Canadian flag in window. The proprietor, who was a former professional soccer player, wanted to practise  his English and was delighted when I told him that my brother coached soccer in Canada.
Canadian flag is in the middle.
Last year, when I was studying for my final exam at the Sorbonne, my mum and sister visited Bayeux so that I could have some quiet in the St. Jacques apartment.  Mum bought a little shirt for her great-grand-daughter Lily. Janet and I visited the same shop this year and bought tea towels for our friends at home.  The lady, who does silkscreen work, was so pleased that we had heard of her store in Canada.
The poppies for remembrance

A woman in another shop told us about the new city museum that had opened only 4 days before.  Le Musée Baron Gérard is housed in the former Bishop's Palace and chronicles the history of the area from Neolithic times. The sections on lace-making and porcelain were fascinating. The employees were so proud of this showcase that they kept encouraging us to open drawers and to see more.

We hired a taxi to take us to Juno Beach where the Canadian regiments landed on D-Day. It was so cold by the Channel.  The museum tries to give an insight as to what it was like for those young Canadian men coming ashore in the face of enemy fire. Janet's dad was in Europe during the war but he never spoke of it. We visited the Canadian cemetery the land for which was given to Canada by the people of France. After having seen images of the destruction and loss of life, we feel grateful for having lived far away from war.
Juno Beach 

An Inukshuk for the First Nations soldiers who were killed
I have always had a sense of connection to my French-Canadian heritage and somehow I feel that perhaps a part of my family tree has its roots in Normandy.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Bayeux and Canadian Links

Wednesday, we took an early train from Gare St. Lazare to Bayeux in Normandy. My friend, who is visiting for one more week, has only seen Paris so I thought that a tour of the countryside was in order.
France is a beautiful country with 22 different départments. Normandy is green and rolling fields dotted with small villages.

Bayeux is a town of about 14,000 people. It is in the Calvados region, famous for a potent apple liqueur which I tasted in Paris. The cathedral, Notre-Dame de Bayeux, was built in the 11th century and once displayed the Bayeux tapestry. In the Second World War,  Bayeux was the first French city liberated after the Normandy Landings. Charles de Gaulle addressed the Free French from Bayeux in 1944.

Our hotel, The Churchill Hotel, has a wonderful location for visiting the town and operates its own shuttle to Mont-St-Michel. I noticed that it was located beside La Place de Quèbec and was curious to explore.  Many of the original settlers to New France ( one of the earliest settlements in Canada) were from Normandy. To my surprise, the statue in the Place de Québec, is of St. Catherine-de- Saint-Augustin who was born in Normandy and travelled to New France to nurse French and native peoples.
Although I had never heard of her, she is one of our Canadian saints.

St. Catherine-de St.-Augustin
Thursday, Janet and I boarded the Churchill Hotel shuttle for Mont-St-Michel. The rest of the travellers were family groups so we sat up front with the driver, Maurice. As I was the French-speaking member of the tour, Maurice and I chatted. Coincidentally, he was born in Montréal and had chosen to live in France. It turns out that he gives French classes via Skype to Americans and Germans. He knew so much about the area as he has lived there for 27 years. It makes the trip so much more interesting to have a knowledgeable guide.

A beautiful, chilly day at Mont-Saint-Michel.
I have visited Mont-St-Michel before but nevertheless found it beautiful.  The day was very cold and I imagined how damp and chilly it must have been to live there.  It would have been very difficult for an older monk to climb up the stairs. My knees were about to give out a few times. Neither travel nor old age are for sissies.

Imitation is the most sincere form of a flattery.  Earlier this week, The Hostess modelled her really cute Breton shirt. At Mont-St-Michel, they were selling them and I decided that I wanted one to wear with my orange jeans.  I didn't go for the pricey St. James version but a simple cotton mariner shirt.

We still had time to view the Bayeux tapestry which is almost a thousand years old and chronicles the conquest of Britain by the Normans in 1066.  It is amazing to behold the stitches and the colours and again to imagine. Our bodies ached so we watched the film in English and French.

We were too tired to wait for an elegant dinner but we found Le Drakkar restaurant where we had a Planche de Mer of grilled prawns, hake, scallops and salmon. After our pichet of wine, we fell asleep immediately.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Visit to the Old Neighbourhood and New Shoes

Today, we set off to visit the rue St. Jacques neighbourhood where I lived for five months last year. I will probably return there on my next visit as I prefer la Rive Gauche to la Rive Droite. The ambiance is quite different and as I am a studious type, the Latin Quarter suits me better.
The vegetables were splendid.

La boucherie
We started out at the Marché Maubert, the oldest market in Paris.  We just looked and drooled because we were going out for lunch.
All sorts of seafood.
Next, we walked over to Rue St. Jacques and had our lunch at Le Comptoir du Panthéon.  I visited this restaurant last year with my brother and sister-in-law.  The salads are fantastic.
La salade de l'océane.
Behind the Panthéon, is L'église St. Etienne du Mont, the shrine of Ste. Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine are buried there. I really enjoyed Phèdre and Andromaque when I read them.

Today was my French conversation class so I spent an hour working on intonation. I must be more animated.

We visited my old grocery store and local eatery and we will visit more when we move to the sixth arrondissement.  On the rue St. Jacques is a shoe store, my favourite shoe store in all of Paris.  It is a store of comfortable shoes.  My favourites are from Thierry Rabotin. They are the best city walking shoes that I have ever found. I fall often, have bursitis in my knee and a swollen ankle so the expense is worth it.
These shoes are a metallic blue and are so supportive.
We returned home through the fabric district of Montmartre to have a quiet evening at home.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

St. Eustache, Les Halles, Au Pied du Cochon

Today, I stayed in the apartment to do a little laundry and to do some research. I always like to know what I am seeing and to understand the historical context of a site.  The study of French Literature and Culture has always interested me. As an undergrad years ago, I was keen to learn all that I could about La Belle France and now I have the opportunity to view the churches, palaces, and neighbourhoods and to imagine.  History is a just another great story.

Today, we took the 67 bus from Pigalle to Rivoli-Louvre and started with a stroll past the tourist shops with their displays of scarves and Eiffel Tower ornaments. I never visit them unless I have visitors. We strolled along Rue St. Honoré to the  Les Halles area which is undergoing another facelift which will not be complete until 2016. Since the food market was moved in 1971 and a shopping mall developed,
the area has lost much of its charm.  It is being revitalized and hopefully, according the plan, will re-emerge as a hub of Paris.

After skirting the hectares of construction, we entered L'église de St. Eustache, an imposing Gothic church. Louis X1V received communion at St. Eustache and the Grand Ministre Colbert is buried there.
Colbert's tomb
The organ of St. Eustache is the largest in Paris .  The paintings in the individual chapels are dark  and imposing retellings of the martyrdom of early Christians.
We strolled along the Montorgueil pedestrian zone and I noticed a Jean Louis David salon where I got my hair glazed for la brilliance and had a blowout.  In France, you come out of the salon with casual-looking hair that just has more shine and volume.

We had extra time before meeting friends at Au Pied de Cochon so we stopped for drinks and tapas at a corner brasserie. What a great place to people watch!  We especially like men with full hair and coloured jeans.

We met our friends at Au Pied de Cochon where we ate pieds farcis (stuffed pigs' feet). This is Paris and we will try anything. As a solo traveller, I like to travel in taxis at night so we walked to rue Montorgeuil, hailed a cab and returned chez nous in time for sleep.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Palm Sunday at St. Louis-en-l'Ile

Today, we took the bus to Ile-St-Louis to watch Les Rameaux, the Palm Sunday procession which starts at the bridge that joins Ile-de-la-Cité and Ile-St.-Louis and continues to the church. People of all ages congregated, the priest read from the Scriptures, then a procession followed the incense and palms to the church. A woman gave us a paper with the words to the hymns that were being sung and we joined the procession.

The new bells of Notre Dame rang today and there were huge crowds waiting to enter the cathedral.  There are bleachers outside and a large screen showing the mass to those who are waiting. Notre Dame is magnificent but I prefer to attend a smaller parish church for worship.

It was so cold today in Paris. We window-shopped on L'Ile-St.-Louis but there was such a bite in the air. We ate lunch in a restaurant near Notre Dame and returned to the apartment to put on more clothes.
The window of St. Pierre designed by Max Ingrand
There was a free concert with organ and choir at our local church St. Pierre de Montmartre. The choir was wonderful and again the church was filled with neighbourhood people of all ages.They sang Stabat Mater, a 13th century hymn of the sorrowing mother. We will try to visit different Paris churches during HolyWeek.

We didn't have any religious observation of my father's death in January. His ashes are at my sister's and we plan to do something on his birthday in July. It all seems incomplete to me. My dad volunteered for thirty years on a committee for affordable seniors' housing and a new tower is being named after him but I will miss the ground-breaking. Easter is a time for thinking about mortality and immortality.

Friday, March 22, 2013

La première journée du printemps

Parisians who have large balconies or courtyards can buy bushes, shrubs or small trees.

Today we walked all the way from our apartment in Montmartre to my lesson near la rue Mouffetard in the fifth arrondissement. We started at 9:00 this morning and barely reached my teacher's apartment by 11:00. I spent an hour discussing parks and gardens in Paris and Georges Sand.  Today is the first day of spring but the weather is still cold. Only in the shop windows along the streets of Paris are the signs of spring apparent. Flower shops are everywhere.

Many people have window boxes or small flower pots.
Chocolate Easter eggs and colourful confiseries remind us that Pâques is just 10 days away. We are going to attend a concert at St-Pierre de Montmartre on Sunday and I want to attend a Palm Sunday service. Last year, I saw a procession in the streets of St. Louis-en-l'Ile on Palm Sunday.
I especially liked this chocolate garden with a cute chenille.  It reminded me of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I still love cute kids' stuff.
A rainbow of scarves in Diwali on rue Mouffetard.
I'll wear this scarf a lot.
My new orange sweater is trimmed with beige lace.
La tribu des oiseaux rain hat.
My daughter still complains about my fondness for Easter outfits. When she was a little girl, I loved mauve, pink and turquoise kids' clothing.  If there was a hat, it was even better. But now that I am a grownup with a grownup daughter, I get to buy for myself. I bought myself a sweater, a bright coloured scarf and of course, a hat. This spring, Paris is about colour. I hope that the weather improves so we can wear our lighter clothes.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I love Paris

I love everything about Paris.  This morning, we lingered in the apartment as I was indolent and Janet had to wash her hair.  We are going to the Moulin Rouge tonight so we need to conserve our energy a little.  We went back to my favourite neighbourhood restaurant so far, Le Café Bruant.  I intended to have a light lunch but the Formule de Midi was irresistible.

In France, the best time to have an inexpensive meal is at noon.  Many French companies supply vouchers for workers' lunches and so restaurants offer some very good deals.  Today, I had a stuffed tomato appetizer on a bed of lettuce and a scallop and salmon brochette with risotto for 12 euros. We shared a pichet of house wine and our bill was 34 euros.

There was a group of older men  (well not really older than me) who were at the bar greeting each other, drinking and sharing laughs. They were all nicely dressed, had a little longer hair than men at home and went outside to use their mobiles. They seemed to really enjoy the company of each other.

I like the softly curled look.
Janet and I separated to go about our afternoon activities. She enjoys sightseeing and taking photos and I love doing errands in France.  I dropped my warm camel slacks off at the cleaners, picked up some brown tights at monoprix and had my first shampooing and brushing at Franck Provost.  I decided not to bring product and styling devices to Paris.  I have stayed curly rather that having a straightening procedure so styling can be time consuming. I was happy with the lightly curled effect.

I am looking for a stylish pair of tan walking shoes.  I have loafers, ballerinas and low boots but I think that I am going to need a pair of tied shoes. Les dames d'un certain âge all wear lovely walking shoes so I can be very selective.

My orange jeans are my favourites.
Paris is feeling damp and cold this March. We need to put the electric heaters on in the apartment and sleep under duvets. I could have used my down coat but it will be a nuisance in April and May. Fortunately, I can layer under my cape to keep away the chill. As I told Monsieur before I left home, "Nobody goes to Paris for the weather."

La Leçon

Tuesday, I had my first private French lesson.  Last year, I studied at the Sorbonne and completed the advanced level but I want to achieve native-like fluency.  I have engaged the services of a private teacher in the fifth arrondissement to help me to attain this goal.  Having taught advanced English conversation to adults, I have some preconceptions about what fluency means.

The teacher whom I have chosen from the many available on the Internet lives 6 km from my Montmartre apartment.  My visiting friend and I set out to walk there allowing time for sightseeing on the way. We set out into the grey Paris morning visiting L'église de la Madeleine. This visit took us a couple of kms. out of our way and as my friend reminded me, I had forgotten to support my ankle. Hills and stairs quickly cause swelling right now. We stopped on the rue Rivoli for salade composée and du vin. I love French salads which are usually works of art. Mine had hard-cooked egg,
shrimp, smoked salmon and goat cheese in addition to the regular salad fare.

 After going too far and having missed our street, we eventually found the apartment for the lesson. The teacher's apartment was on the third floor (read 4th for North America) so after having walked for a few hours and having climbed  the stairs, I am slightly out of breath and my yellowish green ankle is starting to swell.

Madame le professeur asks me some questions and takes notes.  Her first impression is that I, like many Americans (Canadians are the same to many French people) speak too quickly and in a monotonous drone typical to anglophones.  I must learn to speak with "la bouche ouverte" and to divide my sentences into phrases like Jacques Chirac.

I am given a mirror to watch the shape of my mouth as I utter certain French phrases paying special attention to articulation. After 8 weeks, I hope to acquire "la bouche française".  My teacher says that I will become more relaxed speaking French if I develop M. Chirac's oratorial style. M. Hollande is not listened to because he does not articulate. I spend 90 minutes grimacing into my hand mirror and enunciating.

It is very interesting to have a private Paris teacher.  I will visit her twice a week for the next 8 weeks. I must spend some time each day practising my sounds. What a sight!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

La Culture ou les Pensées d'un professeur en retraite

Can you learn from a really bad teacher? I have spent about 30 years in the education field and have always tried to create engaging lessons.  I have hoped to involve every student in my elementary French classes in a positive way.  I have staged Eiffel Tower sundae building classes, construct your own French street using any medium classes and my favourite Trois Petits Chats ( you can sing it really fast once you practise). Whatever your fancy, Madame L. would try to provide some activity.

I did this largely in reaction to the truly uninspiring French teachers that I suffered in high school.  I always wanted to learn French. Although my great-grandmother was French-Canadian living in Manitoba, nobody in my family spoke French.  I thought French was elegant and the language of culture.  More than anything, my teenaged self yearned to be elegant and cultured. I have already admitted to nerdiness, so this probably is not surprising.

The teaching of French in my school in the 1960's involved copying material from the blackboard, writing out conjugations of verbs and completing interminable exercises which were always marked in class by our fellow students. Even tests and dictées were marked in class. Most students dropped out of French as soon as possible and few ever learned to speak a sentence of the language.

But my junior high French teacher, a somewhat louche man, who was always ogling the mini-skirted fourteen year olds had a special section  "la Culture" on the right side of the blackboard where he listed famous French sites and cultural words.  It is there that I first learned about Sacré Coeur, Montmartre,
the Moulin Rouge and Edith Piaf. This litany of "cultural words" somehow stayed with me.  This morning, I asked my visiting friend, who shared the same high school experiences with me, if she remembered this. She did not. It is an interesting observation that sometimes, if the student is keen, the worst teacher can deliver a life-long lesson.
Whoever wrote the title on youtube made 2 agreement errors.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Of Martyrs, Communards and Vignerons

Today my newly arrived friend and I had a self-guided walking tour of Montmartre. What do you think of when you hear the name. For me, the Moulin Rouge, Sacré Coeur and Toulouse-Lautrec are my first associations with the quartier but  Montmartre has a darker historical side.

Statue of Saint Vincent, Patron saint of winemakers ( our favourite)
Montmartre means Mount of Martyrs. St. Denis, who was the first Bishop of Paris and the patron saint of France had his head cut off on the mountain. We visited L'Eglise de St. Pierre de Montmartre which was built on the site of a temple of Mars. A Christian church was erected on the site during the 7th century. In 1534, Ignatius of Loyola founded The Society of Jesus which became the Jesuit order.

We passed the vineyards of Montmartre, the site of which dates from Roman times. The vineyards now belong to the Mairie de Paris and the wine is sold to support social programs in Paris.

Coincidentally, March 18, 1871 was the date that the Commune of Paris began when the dissatisfied workers who had suffered during the Franco-Prussian War seized the cannon on the Butte de Montmartre and the barricades went up. Hundreds of revolutionaries were buried alive in the Montmartre gypsum mines when the government troops dynamited the exits.  The workers' insurrection was suppressed in May and if you visit, Père Lachaise  cemetery, you will see The Communard's Wall where 147 revolutionaries were lined up and shot.  Sacré Coeur was built to celebrate a return to social and moral order.

There is so much than you can learn just wandering through the streets of any Paris neighbourhood. At the end of the day, tired and thirsty, we were happy to go home and honour St. Vincent.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Do You Speak English?

Parisians seldom approach strangers in the street. Yesterday, as I was approaching Des Abbesses where the pipers were playing and the Scottish rugby fans were congregated, I heard the question being asked of a woman. " Do you speak English?" Then, I saw the inevitable large group of young girls.  Fortunately, I heard one girl remark to the others (in French) that the police were there (not exactly what she said). Someone's wallet was probably spared.

In Paris, I don't smile often at strangers nor do I reply to them.  I ignore and continue on.  My friend who is coming today was appalled at my "unfriendly" street self. Last year, when she visited, 5 people found a "gold" ring near her on the first day. I just ignored and kept going. In one case,
where someone approached her, I said in my loud language lab voice "Vas-t-en!" The woman left.

That being said, I did ask "les poules de Toulouse" and the piper if I could photograph them. But it was me approaching them. I was here for 5 months last year and I had a lot of Canadian visitors, so I have got some "street smarts." If you dress in an understated Paris fashion, you may not stand out as a tourist. My camera is kept in my bag. Today, after my friend arrives, we will be speaking English together so will probably be approached. I don't carry a lot of money, my passport or all of my cards together.

This sort of thing does not only happen in Paris.  If you read Materfamilias last week-end, a young man perpetrated a scam/robbery while she was in her own apartment with her husband in my Canadian hometown.  I am unsuspecting and helpful chez moi because I have had to rely "on the kindness of strangers. I gave $20 to a young man that I met at a Canada Line station who was" trying to get to the airport to go home to Britain", only to find later from my local paper that his distressed cellphone call was only a ploy to entice concerned ladies like me to give him money. We even talked about Torquay where he "was from." I am a mother and if my daughter were "in distress", I would like someone to help her.

The government of France initiated deportation of Romany people several years ago but this action was found to be in contravention of the right of freedom of movement of EU citizens. As all scams are not perpetrated by visible ethnic groups, the best protection is being aware of others in the street and ensuring that your valuables are secure somewhere.

Montmartre, cest fou!

This is "un faux écossais".  He is a member of a French pipe band.
After rising late from my night of disrupted sleep, I decided to visit the Rue des Abbesses.  The chief commercial street in my Montmartre neighbourhood. I go down Rue des Trois Frères and turn at Passage des Abbesses to reach the shops.  At the junction of Trois Frères and the Passage is the grocery store of M. Collignon, the bully in Amélie.

Now, I didn't sleep well but I was not prepared to hear "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" being played on the bagpipes. At the foot of the Passage des Abbesses were hundreds of people in plaid. But tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day.  What is going on? Are these Scots or odd French dressed up as Scots? As a man walks by dressed as Aristide Bruant, I am sure that I must be having a weird dream.

I spot a group of be-plaided people who are wearing  Clydeside jackets and ask them to explain to a confused Canadian what it is that is going on. Apparently, every other year France and Scotland play a rugby match and Montmartre hosts Les Jours Ecossais.  The Scots laugh when I explain that I am a visiting Canadian.  We're all part of the same family and all that.

What can be the explanation?
Well, that explains the plaid and pipes but not what I see next! I can be a curious and friendly sort of a woman.  I am comfortable in France and fluent, so I ask.  These men are from Toulouse and they are dressed as "poules." I still didn't understand and it has nothing to do with my comprehension of French.
Apparently, and I know nothing about rugby or many other sports, the term "poules" has something to do the the different matches. (Makes no sense to me).

The cafés are packed but I need to have lunch so I stop at the Café Bruant and have "une tartine Dumas avec salade" I stop at a BIO store and buy some healthy organic mâche and tomatoes to make a salad (when I make it, it has no "e"). Montmartre, c'est fou.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Jetlag, Monkey Mind, Meditation or Medication?

Tonight is my first night in Paris and my mind is racing, planning, wondering. I turn over and try to be in the moment: feel my breath, experience the cool, fresh sheets and clear my monkey mind but nothing works. I listen to BBC World for a while but I hear the news over and over again which is a bad sign. I read the favourite blogs of the favourite blogs of the blogs that I read. Jean styles, the colour green, how to launder, Paris markets and "oh! I can't find my tweezers." I can't sleep.

Monkey mind is a Buddhist term for the out of control kind of thoughts that I am experiencing. My mind is like a monkey swinging from tree to tree. In my case, I am still experiencing transition from my "real" life to London to Paris so it could just be a sort of jet lag. I have a bandage on my foot so I can't do my usual walking and  I haven't done any real grocery shopping yet so I have not been eating my normal fare of yogurt, fresh fruit, salad and fish.  Does paprika kalamari count? It could also be that I have missed medication two days out of four.

I don't consider an "active" mind like this to be an asset. It saps energy and accomplishes nothing. The crucial and the trivial mix together to form an unhealthy stew. I've been thinking about Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and which Irish pub to go to on Sunday. It is starting to get light. It's almost 7:00am or 10:00pm at home

I used to have this kind of mind much of the time. I was a librarian, knew "lots of stuff",  and after all "it's good to have all those synapses firing." Except those physical attributes of my brain that give me an excellent memory and an aptitude for learning and storing new information can also cause me anxiety and fatigue.

The "monkey mind" is not doing any critical thinking to solve any real problems. Its just "swinging", "dangling" and making lots of noise. Right now, mine feels like a troupe of howler monkeys.  Yoga, meditation, breathing, walking, running, quilting, gardening or any other activity that lets one "be in the moment" help. For some people (me included), medication that slows the re-uptake of serotonin helps.

Today, I will walk(but not too much because my ankle is still swollen) and buy some healthy groceries and be sure to take my pills.  Once some routines are established, my mind will become quieter and my sleep patterns will return to normal. 

Je suis arrivée

This apartment, Romantique Montmartre, has been the easiest rental that I have ever done. I have rented houses in France privately through the owner and apartments through agencies but this one has worked like clockwork. The attentive owners of the Lime Tree Hotel in London called me a taxi.  The driver wound his way through rush hour traffic to get me to the Eurostar at St Pancras.  Taxi drivers here are very  helpful and most grateful for any tip.  I think that the "service inclus" in most European countries means that tourism/service people do not receive much in the way of gratuities. As a solo woman with luggage, I rely on the kindness of strangers a lot.

There are no porters at St. Pancras. Last year, I managed much heavier bags myself but I am still unsure on my feet after having fallen Wednesday. The wheeling of suitcases is fine but lifting them onto the train is impossible for me right now. A nice French man lifted the case for me. The Eurostar is efficient and prompt.  I arrived in Paris' Gare du Nord, a five minute taxi ride away from my new pied à terre  where I was met by the greeter at the security gate outside the apartment. There is a courtyard but I have not had time to take photos. The apartment is beautiful. In a small space, there is everything that I could need, even facecloths. Telephone calls to Canada are free so I was able to call my mother and husband. The cleaning person will even visit me twice during my 3 week stay.  Last year, I rented for 5 months and had to pay for the cleaning although clean bedding and towels were delivered upon request.

I undertook a short walk to get some food but I am still feeling a bit weak. I bought some bread, goat cheese, olives and wine for a light dinner. I am a "Free Woman in Paris."  In France, I can't even watch the Youtube of Joanie Mitchell because there copyright is much more strictly enforced than in Canada.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

An Evening with the Queen

London at night is vibrant and engaging even for a solo woman with a swollen ankle. As my pain abated, I was able to put on tights and my suit for the theatre. I purchased my ibuprofen and set off in a taxi for the West End Theatre district. I never go to downtown events alone at home but I am amazed at how comfortable it is in other cities.

I had purchased an online pre-show meal at a restaurant called Salvador and Amanda in Covent Garden. The hostess helped me with the stairs and for under 20 pounds, I had a Spanish tortilla with garlic aioli, sautéed mushrooms on spinach mash topped with cheese, 2 glasses of house wine and an expresso. I couldn't finish it all but there were a lot of people sharing tapas and happy hour drinks.

The Audience was excellent.  For two hours, I believed that the Queen was on stage. Helen Mirren, who is a rather petite woman, entertained her Prime Ministers with humour, compassion, and the wisdom of a woman whose destiny is to be "a face on the stamp" for all of her life. She must exude
"friendliness not friendship" to her ministers. Only when Harold Wilson tells her that he may have early
onset Alzheimer's, does she break her own rule and asks to be invited to Downing Street for dinner.
Throughout the play, the Queen speaks with her rebellious "girl self" who wants to ride bicycles, watch the other people through the window and who balks at being addressed as "ma'am".  The play runs until June 15 and is truly worth seeing.

Tomorrow, I  leave London on the Eurostar for Paris. By 2:00 tomorrow, I should be in my new Paris apartment.

On the Street Where I Live

My bed at the Lime Tree is very comfy.
Do you remember scene from My Fair Lady when Freddy sings On  the Street Where You Live?  The creamy faced London townhouses are in Belgravia where I am staying.  Belgravia is the most expensive area of real estate in London. But there are bargains to be had if you are a visitor. I am staying at The Lime Tree Hotel on Ebury Street.  This area is close to Buckingham Palace and to the Victoria Coach Station.

I decided to go out for a quick exploration of the neighbourhood and a bite to eat. I was in heaven. Most of Belgravia belongs to the Duke of Westminster and the buildings are heritage and can not be altered on the exterior. In the sleet, I set off along Elizabeth Street for my reconnaissance. The shop windows are so pretty: Hawick's of Scotland Cashmere, Jenny Packham, Allegra Hicks. I'm obviously not going to buy anything but I do ring the bell and visit the cashmere shop. My jet lag has disappeared as I make my way to Eaton Square.
There are 6 private gardens.

Eaton Square  is the home of the Bellamys of Upstairs, Downstairs and of Lady Rosamond of Downton Abbey.  Besides its BBC drama residents, the personages who have lived at Eaton  are too numerous to mention in this post. I am snapping photos when suddenly thanks to sleet, my enthusiasm and an ankle already weakened by a previous fall, I am on the ground.  After reassuring the concerned passersby, I pick myself up a little humiliated and continue on to an early dinner at The Thomas Cubitt.

Thomas Cubitt designed much of Belgravia and of Bloomsbury.  He is also an ancestor of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. I ordered the market fish, hake, with a spinach side salad and a glass of pinot gris. The meal was magnificent and the bar filled with young fashionables enjoying an early evening drink.  I couldn't bring myself to take a photo of my meal.

As I returned home, up the 64 stairs to my room, my ankle began to hurt. All night, I wriggled and squirmed in discomfort. I decided to dress and go down for late breakfast but the ascent was brutal. I rested all day, not even venturing to the chemist's for ibuprofen for fear of another tortuous ascent.
I am happy to report that, at present, I am dressed and about to leave for the Gielgud Theatre for The
Audience.  I will be going by taxi.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

En Route

Waiting in the Airport

I was going to ask M. Là-bas to take a photo but we were a little flustered.  I changed to a smaller suitcase yesterday for   greater convenience on trains.  I could hardly get it closed and it is unfamiliar to me. It is raining hard at home and snowing in Northern Europe.  I have boots (crushable) in my carry-on.

I followed my original plan for dressing for the travelling day and even put on my Echo travel scarf that I bought last year near the Pantheon.  My  Irish cape and hat will be good protection from the cold in London and I might even be able to buy a shamrock pin on Sunday in Paris.

My carry-on feels awkward to me but I will get used to it.  I have all my chargers and cords for my devices.  How can a woman who didn't even bring a hair-dryer have so many electronics?

It's funny! My very undemonstrative daughter asked if she could come to the airport. She is used to Mum going away and we connect via Skype.

Soon we will be boarding and I'm glad that I used extra points for Executive and will get lunch because Buy on Board never appeals to me.

We will be boarding soon.  Au revoir.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Busy Weekend

I leave for Europe Tuesday! There are loose ends to tie up as I will be away 10 weeks. This is the week-end that we lose an hour to daylight savings. There so many things to do both for travel and leaving the apartment.
My favourite spot in Paris

 The opera The Magic Flute opened last night, my opera night.  The costumes and the sets which were designed to reflect West Coast Kwakiutl culture were magnificent. I always like to observe the attire of the audience on opening nights.  Several patrons wore clothing with a First Nations motif and there were two women sporting powdered wigs à la Mozart.  The opera was sung in English and the translation was thoughtful.  This opera was a remounting of a 2007 production but I was more impressed with it this time.

I loaded  The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman on my Kobo yesterday for travel purposes but unfortunately I started reading it so I will probably need another book for my travel day. Travel has become a little more complicated with laptop, Kobo, camera and iPod with their cords and chargers.  I am not taking a cellphone because last year I used it on travel days and my roaming charges were exorbitant. I have unlimited free calling to Canada in my first Paris rental and I will use Skype. I always like to have a few BBC series loaded on the laptop. Last year, I watched Cranford and From Larkrise to Candleford.  I love BBC series and BBC World Service Radio.  I even listen at home.

I overwinter my geraniums in my glassed-in balcony, so they needed repotting and preparation for the growing season. Something that I have learned from my Paris days is that however small your apartment is, plants and flowers are essential.  On Sunday, a visit to the Marché aux Fleurs on Ile de la Cité is a must. I will go there on Easter Sunday. The market is a delight to visit with plants, small garden decorations and caged birds.

My toiletries and cosmetics need to be organized but I am not taking too much as I will be able to readily purchase what I need.  There is a Beauté Monop at 28 Rue des Abbesses that even has a blowout bar where my curly hair can be dealt with in less than 15 minutes. Blowdryers, curling irons, straightening irons will not be travelling with me. Most days I can let my hair air  dry.

I have a file of printed bookings and confirmations that must accompany me.  I keep a version on my computer and iPod touch as well so I can always refer to them as needed.  I leave another copy at home with Monsieur. I start out with quite a dossier of papers.

Today, I will visit with friends and with my daughter as I will not see them for ten weeks.  My mother, who is sad and lonely, will miss me because I see her three or four times a week. Hopefully, she will be more settled when I get back but it is hard to lose a husband of 61 years. Monsieur is very good with her and takes her out on a regular basis and daughter phones her every day but when all is said and done, Maman will need to create a new network for herself.

I am looking forward to the adventure.

Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day

This is International Women's Day.  Education of women makes us strong and free.  Those of us who circumstances have favoured need to think about the girls who live in countries where education is unavailable or dangerous, the girls who live in families where abuse and poverty break their spirits and those who struggle with learning disabilities.  I will think of my sponsor daughter Maria in Oaxaca who will be graduating in July. She has worked so hard and has been chosen to go on a cultural exchange to Spain. My biological daughter has struggled with  dyslexia and the issues that accompany it. This year, she had a triumph when she told me that she was "doing something I would do".  I wondered and then she announced that she had spent a whole day reading a book. 
Oaxaca is a great place to visit.

Information about adult learning disabilities in British Columbia is available through ALDA.  If you are an adult who has struggled in school, you may receive support through this organization.

The Oaxaca Learning Center supports students in Mexico who would not be able to continue their education.  They offer women's support groups that deal with relationship, domestic violence and self-esteem issues. For a true Mexican experience, you can rent the apartment at the Center.  I have spent 2 months there and would highly recommend it.

The Naked Face

My face

Do you ever look at you own face in the mirror and wonder.  I have had the same face all of my life but there are new lines and shadows.  My eyelashes are finer and little prickles pop up uninvited but it is just an older version of my girl face.  Yesterday, at Une Femme d'un Certain Age, Déjà Pseu posted a makeup tutorial. I don't use makeup every day but I always moisturize.  I get my brows tinted and shaped regularly as they are turning white and a strong brow is a good thing as one ages.  Drinking water, abstaining from smoking and excessive suntanning are important as we age.  I would like to be thinner but rapid weight loss can affect older skin that has lost a lot of it's elasticity.

When I travel to Europe, I will probably buy a new moisturizer at a pharmacy or at Monoprix.  In France, there is a great selection of skin care products.  At any pharmacy, there is an assortment of  products and any pharmacist  can tell you about them all. Monoprix carries its own lines (starting at about 4 euros) as well as other inexpensive skincare products. There are Yves Rocher Institut skin care centres  where you can undergo soins du visage or buy the Yves Rocher products.  Anything that is marked végétale means that the product has a plant base.  Any product marked AB in France means Agriculture Biologique a closely monitored appellation which indicates 95% organic material.  In France, you will find many products marked AB or "bio".

The typical French woman (a cultural stereotype bien sûr) does not appear to wear a face of warpaint. There are fewer invasive facial treatments in France than in other countries.  Skin care products are readily and inexpensively available and  a few facial lines are regarded a a sign of experience.

My face is my face.  It is the face of a 61 year old woman of Celtic
origins.  My ancestors lived in the Shetland Islands and Ireland where they call mild rosacea "high colour". The air is moist and the sun seldom visits (sounds a lot like where I live on the West Coast of Canada.)  In France, I shall probably try out moisturizers and a bit of calming product for redness.

I don't carry a lot of product to Paris because trying new lines is part of the adventure.  The pharmacist in any residential area will give you samples before you buy anything.  There are so many inexpensive products that skin care need not be a major investment.  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Almost Finished Packing

I have only 5 days before I leave for Europe and I am almost finished packing.  I have been following some of the guidelines from Janice at the Vivienne Files and I am going to be able to use my medium-sized suitcase.  I am having to exercise great restraint.  If an item can not be worn with at least three other articles of clothing, it can not come with me. This morning, Janice featured pink jeans and I actually have some.  I have loved wearing orange jeans this winter although I am neither tall nor thin.
I will pair my jeans with my Gérard Darel colour block  sweater that  I bought in Paris last year.  They will also work with my ivory tee shirt and  my oatmeal coloured cardigan.
I hope to have as much fun with my new pink jeans.  They are not too skinny.

This lightweight raincoat will be great for April showers.
 As April may be a showery month in Paris, I am taking a very light reversible, greige/white raincoat. I will be able to pair it with any of my orange or pink scarves.

Monsieur surprised me by having an opinion about my wardrobe.  He usually just says that his wife has a good fashion sense so whatever I wear is fine with him.  Yesterday when I was showing him a brown and grey vest blouse combo, he proclaimed it "too sad sack" for me.  I reconsidered the items and decided that they were November in Canada not springtime in Europe. I do listen to my husband.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Beauty of Simple Things

I belong to a small discussion group that is affiliated with the church that I started attending a year ago when my dad was really sick.  Our topic this week was the beauty of simple things.

Think of something in your home that is just ordinary.  Something that has no special significance to you. Look at your object carefully. What do you notice? Is your object perfect or imperfect?  Does your  object have a use in your life?  Thank your object for being in your life.

Sometimes it is helpful to recognize the role of  the ordinary in our lives and to be grateful.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Symphony in Yellow by Oscar Wilde

An omnibus across the bridge
Crawls like a yellow butterfly
And, here and there, a passer-by
Shows like a little restless midge.

Big barges full of yellow hay
Are moored against the shadowy wharf,
And, like a yellow silken scarf,
The thick fog hangs along the quay.

The yellow leaves begin to fade
And flutter from the Temple elms,
And at my feet the pale green Thames
Lies like a rod of rippled jade.

This poem is in the public domain.

I took these photos when Monsieur and I visited the Methow Valley in
Washington State.  We love the Mazama area. When we are splurging,
we stay at The Freestone Inn and when we want to be a little more rustic, we stay at The Mazama Horse Ranch.
Monsieur loves to hike in the North Cascades and I am happy to sit and read, stitch or go for a walk on the 
extensive cross-country trail system. The weather is always bright and sunny in the summer and the fall leaves
are beautiful along the Methow River. Mazama is an annual destination for us.


A New Way of Seeing Things

Today, I picked up my new glasses.  They are larger and more brightly coloured than my previous pair.  My prescription is expensive because I need progressive lenses.  I have worn glasses for 50 years and although I have worn contact lenses for short periods of time and checked out the Lasik surgery, I keep coming back to the old comfortable spectacles.

I have always been a bookish person who liked to hang out in libraries.  In my youth, glasses and a fondness for reading did indeed a "nerdy girl" make.  It has taken a lot of my life to decide that I like "nerdy" people best.  I like to read  and discuss ideas.  I love comparative literature and I play Funtrivia online and I win. Today, girls are often passing boys by academically and are attending institutions of post-secondary education in greater numbers. A young man is likely to be proud of his "smart" girlfriend who may very well become the major breadwinner.

My new glasses are handmade by Wissing in Germany.  You can buy them in almost any colour combination you want.  I love orange, rust and red so I selected frames in these colours.  Glasses can be fun and  attractive fashion accessories. I once saw a bumper sticker that I wish I had bought.  It said,"Librarians make novel lovers."  There are many different ways of seeing our world.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Packing Continues

I have been reading back posts of the Vivienne Files, trying to fit 10 weeks worth of clothing into my medium sized expandable suitcase. I really don't want to buy a new suitcase and my large suitcase is a monster. I will be taking the Eurostar from London to Paris, moving apartment once during my stay, flying on Easyjet to Prague and travelling 2nd class on the train from Budapest to Munich.  Neither of my apartments this year are on the 3rd floor like last year but a woman travelling alone does not need the albatross of a giant bag. The problem is that the 10 day weather forecast tells me that London will have a high temperature of 43 degrees F and a low of 37 degrees F.  I will be walking a lot of the time and there is always the possibility of cold rain.

I have determined the palette (warm for me of course) and I don't wear black. Brown and beige are my neutrals and shades of orange (rust, peach, even an orangey coral) are my accent pieces.  I need a dress up outfit for the theatre in London, the Moulin Rouge in Paris and an evening concert in Vienna. Shoes and bags need to be selected for everyday use and for evening.
Sightseeing in April and May

Dinner on Danube Cruise (Country Club casual they call it???)                  
I have started piles of clothing in the corner of the bedroom: items by use and by colour.  I am going to major cities where there are shops and laundries not the middle of the desert.  That would entail a totally different sort of wardrobe.  In an earlier post, I chose my London (cold weather wardrobe). Now I must  choose what to take for April in Paris. Fortunately, Tish Jett did a series of posts on April in Paris in 2011. The great thing about blogs is that it's all on the computer. There are no magazines cluttering up my apartment.

I read Janice at the Vivienne Files regularly so I should be able to do this.  I will start with a sightseeing outfit and go from there.  I have a cashmere cardigan, jeans, loafers, a camisole and a scarf. My first outfits should be ready to go. Thank you, Janice, I just eliminated two items that will not fit in with my overall plan. I might be getting the hang of this but my photography is only progressing.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Spanish Reds

Le coquille de St. Jacques
Le football
En el mercado
My favourite Spanish reds
A Spash of Red is a poetry website that is fun to visit.

Decisions , Decisions!

I am packing and planning for my upcoming trip to Europe.  My suitcase can only hold so much and I can only carry so much.  Some things that I really like must be left behind. Have you ever thought about all the editing and leaving behind a woman has to do in her life? As young girls we have fantasies of great adventures and charming princes who will sweep us off our feet. Some women are fortunate and find their prince, some women are left and some leave their princes and some women just don't meet  or don't want any princely suitors.

We make decisions to have children or not and to stay at home with them or not. When I was in my twenties, I loved being an at home mother. I loved hanging out with other mums and toting my daughter wherever I went.  I never thought that I was missing anything. Other women were happy to return to work after their maternity leave ended. The domestic life is not for everyone. I have chosen to retire at 59 so that I can have my adventures now instead of waiting.  My teaching life was important but I know that there is a "real" me who feels confined in the "school marm" role. So much of "education" is concerned with classroom management rather than teaching and learning.

When we downsize our homes or clean our closets, we make more decisions. What to keep, what to give away? What memories reside in what items? Will I wear this or that? Will my home be sleek and minimalist or a cozy nest? Making a decision means eliminating the other options. It really is about the "road not taken". Perhaps, more significant than choosing our clothes or our décor is choosing which of our dreams to leave behind. Sometimes they just don't fit anymore and there isn't room in the suitcase.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Packing 101

My cape will keep me warm and dry.

I go away for months at a time.  Packing is aways critical.  How do I pack everything I need and still be able to navigate airports, trains and whatever staircases I might need to climb/descend? What do I absolutely need?  This year, I have 10 weeks in Europe.  I will be in London (cold), Paris (8 weeks) and cruising on the Danube (country club casual except for Captain's dinner.) What to take, what to take? I loveThe Vivienne Files and Une Femme d'un Certain Age and when I am considering packing with style, these are my go to blogs

Suede skirt with flame coloured jacket and chocolate brown camisole.  I'll wear my amber earrings.
I will be spending 2 days in London before I go to Paris.  I plan to visit the British Museum, the Tate and do lots of walking. London in March can be cold and rain is a possibility. My down coat will be too bulky to carry around in May so I will take my Avoca cape.  This is my oldest item of clothing purchased 24 years ago when I got my first teaching job. I can layer sweaters under it for warmth and I can use it with my mid length suede skirt and low boots for the theatre in London. I don't like to carry an umbrella for mizzle.  My curly hair only gets curlier but I hate rain on my glasses. I like to wear a hat with a brim and carry a small umbrella in my bag in case of a downpour.  One item that I want to buy in Paris is a Longchamps Le Pliage bag which I will use to carry my hat home in May. I bought a pair of Arcopedico low boots which are ideal for walking around London.
Travelling and London sight-seeing
With a change of top and scarf (and underwear of course) this outfit should take care of my sightseeing wardrobe for London. My wool trousers should keep my legs warm and I could layer tights under them.

I'm  not sure what size suitcase that I will need but I really don't want luggage to hamper my adventures.