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Posts Tagged ‘France’

A month away — pleasure, leisure, lessons learned…

In behavior, blogging, cities, culture, domestic life, life, travel, urban life, women on January 20, 2015 at 2:53 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Done.

A month away from home, from work, from normal life — I will very much miss Europe and my friends there.

It’s not just being away from the tedium of home life or a long break from the grinding pace of work, but savoring a culture that more deeply values the things I care most about — not money or work or power, but food, beauty, intelligence, conversation, friends and family.

 

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I need to flee the United States a few times a year; a native Canadian who moved to the U.S. in 1989,  I’m burned out on its stalled and vicious partisan politics, growing income inequality and fervent attention to pop culture.

One of the reasons I’ve stayed freelance — which costs me income but allows me time — is to take as much time off as my budget allows. The world is too large and filled with adventures for me to sit still in one place for very long; some places I’m eager to get to in the next few years include Morocco, Turkey and Greece. (I’ve been to 39 countries so far.)

Why so long a break?

My most precious belonging!

My most precious belonging!

We were loaned a free Paris apartment for two weeks, which made it affordable given the cost of Christmas-boosted airfares. I stayed with friends in London for the next week, so the only housing cost was $1,200 for the rental of a large studio apartment for my final 8 nights; (hotels on the same street are charging about $190/night for a small single room, about $1,400/week.)

Plus meals, shopping, trainfare to/from London, transfers, taxis/subway.

I hadn’t crossed the Atlantic in five years on my last visit to Paris where, as we did here, we had rented an apartment, also on the Ile St. Louis, the small, quiet island in the middle of the Seine, and settled in for two weeks.

My definition of luxury is not owning a shiny new car or huge house, (and have never owned either one), but the time to really get to know another place for a while.

To sloooooooooow down and savor where I am.

I ate lunch in a favorite restaurant across the street from our 2009 apartment and bought a dress from a favorite shop in the Marais.

Les Fous de L'Ile. Allez-y!

Les Fous de L’Ile. Allez-y!

It’s a luxury to reconnect with the familiar in a foreign country.

In my final week in Paris, I dithered…should I rush around seeing museums, shop the sales and/or sleep late and lounge around my rental apartment, which is large and comfortable? (I did all of them.)

I also joined in the Unity March, the largest in France’s history, thrilled that I was here for it.

One very powerful memory I’m bringing home to New York?

How vivid and present, even today in 2015,  war still is in Paris.

Every street, it seems, has a plaque — often with a bunch of flowers attached to it — honoring Resistance heroes of WWII, their bravery now many decades past. Many schools, heartbreakingly, have a large plaque by their front door numbering how many of their children were taken away by the Nazis.

And there are at least four concurrent exhibitions in Paris devoted to aspects of WWII and WWI, from the Liberation of Paris (an astounding show) to one exploring collaboration with the Nazis. Having watched a 31-minute film there, from 1944, of the liberation, I’ll never again see Paris the same way — its lovely streets then filled with dead bodies and burning tanks, barricaded with trees and sewer gratings, women being dragged into the street for public shaving of their heads for collaborating with the Nazis.

A few things I’ve realized in my time away:

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Social capital can replace financial capital

Jose and I do OK for New York, but so much of it disappears in taxes, retirement savings and life in a costly place. So we’re very fortunate to have generous friends around the world who lend us and/or welcome us into their homes. I spent a week with Cadence and Jeff in London in their flat, whose total square footage is about 300 sf, the size of our living room and dining room at home. I don’t know how we managed it, but we did! While I’ve been here, Jose welcomed our young friend from Chicago, Alex, for a week and introduced him to several important new mentors and our friend Molly, from Arizona, has spent many happy nights on our sofa.

What goes around comes around, even globally!

Travel can be tiring

Exploring big, busy cities on a budget, (i.e. taxis are a rare treat), means hours of walking and many subway stairs. I get tired and dehydrated and needed a coffee or a glass of wine to just rest.

Rue des Archives

Rue des Archives

You also have to pay attention to danger, from subway pickpockets to forgetting your address or house entry code.

Sept. 18, 2011. Jose and I tie the knot!

Sept. 18, 2011. Jose and I tie the knot!

— I missed my husband!

My best friend. My confidant. My sweetie. He was here for a week. I’ve missed his company and laughter terribly and we Skyped a few times.

— Routines serve a useful purpose

At home in New York, I normally take a jazz dance class every Monday and Friday morning and go for an hour’s brisk walk in the woods with my friend Pam on Wednesday mornings. Every weekend I read three newspapers, in print. I enjoy my little routines; as a full-time freelancer with no regular schedule, they ground me.

— But it felt so good to get away from them

I usually watch the nightly news at 6:30, but also hate how U.S.-centric and sentimental it is. In my time away, my only news sources were Twitter and the occasional newspaper — I didn’t turn on the TV once, didn’t miss it a bit and read three non-fiction books instead.

I’ve also loved spending 90% of my time in the real world and not glued to social media on the computer. I really loved not driving a car for an entire month; we live in the suburbs and I spend my NY life behind the wheel, tracking the price of gas. Tedious! A city vacation meant lots of walking, buses, trains and cabs. Healthier and much more fun.

— Less is plenty

I wore the same few clothes for a month, doing laundry once a week and it was eye-opening to see how little I really need.

Same for food. I bought fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, soup and yogurt; that plus a fresh baguette every two days supplied my cheap/delicious breakfasts and light suppers at home.

— Experiences beat stuff

— riding the Ferris wheel high above Les Tuileries on a warm and sunny Christmas Day in Paris

— helping to make French history by joining the Unity March on January 11, the largest gathering of Parisians (and others beyond the city) since WWII. Here’s my blog post about it, if you missed it.

— staying in a 15th century country inn in England, eating short ribs by the fire

— meeting a snappy young British journo I follow on Twitter who took me to a secret members-only club above a Soho restaurant. The room was dim, had two small dogs snoozing in lined wooden boxes and fragrant hyacinths on every table. Heaven!

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— a cup of tea at the Ritz in London and the (!) $30 cocktails Cadence, Jeff and I shared in its spectacular Art Deco bar. Worth it!

— my spendy New Year’s Eve, dinner at Paul Bert 6 with a good bottle of red wine. Here’s the blog post by Juliet, with photos, of our evening together.

— spending a cold gray Sunday afternoon in a hammam, a Paris spa with a Middle Eastern flavor

— We are who we are, no matter where in the world our body is

At home, I need a lot of sleep, minimally 8 to 10 hours a night. Just because there are a gazillion things to do and see while visiting Europe, I didn’t force myself to do asmuchashumanlypossible. I now have a painful arthritic left knee, so by day’s end I really needed to rest.

My final week in Paris I took long, lazy mornings listening to music, reading, eating breakfast, then headed out around noon for a big French lunch, (cheaper than dinner), errands and explorations.

— Cosy beats grand/ambitious, at least some of the time

It was so nice to come “home” to our rented flats and settle in for the evening with a glass of wine and my new favorite radio station, TSFjazz; check it out online! Our Christmas dinner was roast chicken at home at the kitchen table and it was perfect. On a rainy, windy day in Paris, I was almost at the museum door, but was just exhausted. I said the hell with it, cabbed home and instead of being a dutiful/weary tourist took a nap and did laundry. Much happier choice!

— Solitude is relaxing

My life in New York requires chasing people down for work and/or payment, teaching two college classes, maintaining a happy marriage — and paying close attention to everyone’s emotional state. Whew! Raised as an only child, I savor quiet time alone, at home or out in the world exploring on my own. It recharges me.

My independence is a muscle. It needs exercise!

— But social media has been a godsend

So many blogging blind dates!

In Paris, Mallory, Catherine and Juliet — all followers of this blog, once virtual strangers now friends — invited me to meet; Catherine en francais. I also met Gillian and Ruth, fellow American writers my age. In London, I met Josh and in Paris my oldest friend from my Toronto childhood, also visiting. I had a busier social life while alone overseas than I ever do at home.

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I’m increasingly ready to leave the U.S. and its brutally industrial work culture

One of my hosts’s many books is “La Seduction”, by New York Times journalist Elaine Sciolino, who sums up my feelings well:

“The French are proud masters of le plaisir; [pleasure], for their own gratification and as a useful tool to seduce others. They have created and perfected pleasurable ways to pass the time: perfumes to sniff, gardens to wander in, wines to drink, objects of beauty to observe, conversations to carry on. They give themselves permission to fulfill a need for pleasure and and leisure that America’s hard-working, supercapitalist, abstinent culture often does not allow.”

I’ve come to loathe Americans’ fetish for “productivity” and self-denial. Pleasure and leisure are seen there with the same sort of suspicion as a felony offense. I hate that and always have.

Jose and I hope to retire to France, even part-time. Every visit back there confirms why…and I loved this recent post by Chelsea Fuss, a stylist from Portland, Oregon who sold all her things and has been on the road ever since, alone.

A longtime follower of Broadside, photographer Charlene Winfred, is doing the same thing.

An excerpt from Fuss’ terrific blog, {frolic!}:

Does your trip have a point? It seems like you are aimlessly wandering around?

Seeing the world enlightens me. This trip was about facing the nagging wanderlust that had been bugging me for years and getting back to gardening, hence the farm stays. I have a blurry picture of what it is I want to do at the end of this and am figuring it out along the way. I’ve told myself it’s ok not to be overly ambitious right now. I keep busy with work, creative projects, and soaking up my environment but it’s definitely a slower pace than I lived at home and I think that’s ok for me right now. Slowly but surely this vision is getting clearer. I have days when I feel like I am going backwards and I should be climbing the career ladder, but that’s usually when I am comparing myself to other people. For me, this is right, right now.

“Follow the pencil!”…today’s historic Paris unity march

In behavior, cities, Crime, culture, History, journalism, life, news, politics, travel, urban life on January 11, 2015 at 6:39 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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They came in wheelchairs and on crutches.

They came carried in baby slings.

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They came — like Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Association Journal who I randomly met this morning at the cafe at St. Pancras Station as we were both about to board the 8:19 Eurostar to Paris — from other countries to show their solidarity. He decided, last-minute and spur of the moment, he had to cross the Channel to lend his support in person.

They came in six-inch stilettos and black leather trousers, teens to seniors, a river of humanity that started flooding across the city by 1pm heading to Place de la Republique.

I am Charlie, I am Arab but not Muslim, I am Jewish, I'm a cop, I'm North African...

I am Charlie, I am Arab but not Muslim, I am Jewish, I’m a cop, I’m North African…

I joined them today — although to say that I marched would be inaccurate. There were far too many people to do anything that energetic or forward-moving.

We shuffled. We stood still.

We sang the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

I left the Ile St Louis at 2:00 pm with no clear idea where exactly to head — or if there would even be any room for me anywhere near the planned route. I got to the nearest Metro station, (all free for the day), but started to see a river of people streaming east through every narrow street and every wide boulevard.

It was very clear they were all heading for the march, and were heading there en masse.

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It was extraordinary to see so many people literally flooding every street with such determination to join one another.

It’s said that 1.5 million people were out on the streets of Paris today.

I believe it! I am so lucky to have been one of them.

I ended up thronged on a boulevard with the Place de la Bastille maybe a mile south of us; we could just barely see its distinctive gold statue gleaming in the sunshine.

It is ink that should flow, not blood; says this poster

It is ink that should flow, not blood; says this poster

A group of people carrying an enormous fabric pencil, (sagging in the middle a bit), started walking nearby and we all wondered what to do.

“Follow the pencil!” someone shouted.

People clapped.

Mohammed has a fit: "I hate being worshipped by assholes"

Mohammed has a fit: “I hate being worshipped by assholes”

People shouted “Char-lie, Char-lie, Char-lie!”

People stood in their windows looking down on us in amazement, one group of guys unfurling a banner that read “Liberte”, which was greeted by cheers.

People wore French flags and European union flags and one man had painted the French flag on his left cheek.

Many many people wore badges or buttons saying “Je suis Charlie” and many store windows held signs saying “Nous sommes tous Charlie” — we are all Charlie.

Despite the unprecedented volume of people, the mood was calm, quiet, committed.

Even though I avoid all large crowds in the U.S., here, today I never felt scared — security helicopters buzzed low overhead all afternoon and the streets nearby were lined with police and police vans, both local and national.

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There were dozens of journalists and photographers, as it was a historic event.

 

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What struck me most was how relaxed and pleasant the crowd was, at least during the time I was in the very midst of it, from about 2:45 to 4:30 p.m. when I peeled off and headed home.

No one pushed and shoved. No one showed rage or fury or any sort of anti-Muslim fervor. We simply wanted to be there.

There seemed to be no organizing principle or bullhorns or leaders.

Just millions of people of every ethnicity and age and sexual preference who cared enough to come out on a cold, sunny January morning to show their solidarity with one another, with the French journalists shot dead this week by terrorists and to remind the world — as many posters said, in French and English:

I am not afraid.

Renting a Paris apartment — the good, the oh…and the ohhhhh-shit!

In cities, culture, design, domestic life, immigration, life, travel, urban life on January 4, 2015 at 9:38 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The view from our bedroom window

The view from our bedroom window

The last few visits here we’ve rented an apartment. Unless we suddenly (hah!) come into millions, I suspect we’ll keep making that same choice, for a few reasons.

We stayed in a hotel for one night seven years ago. It was gorgeous but minuscule — and our own bathroom at home is 5 x 7, so I know what small looks like!

I’m also a homebody, so I like being able to laze around for hours in the morning, or afternoon, without the need to get dressed to eat or wait for a maid to come clean the room. I like listening to music on my computer (check out TSF jazz, a local station here I discovered this trip.)

I really enjoy having a home to come home to after a fun/exhausting day bopping around Paris. I love the city but — between crazy shoving crowds, the endless stairs of the Metro and the general pace — it’s epuisant!

A few thoughts for those of you considering it:

The good

You can choose a neighborhood and get to know it

We rented on the Ile St. Louis twice, a two-bedroom with a large and comfortable bathroom and super-deep bathtub. We literally overlooked Berthillon, the famed ice cream maker, and could hop across the street for a boule of mango or passion fruit. The ISL is a quiet and bourgeois neighborhood but it’s perfectly located in the Seine, with easy walking access to the Left Bank and Right Bank (the two halves of Paris.) There are plenty of restaurants.

This time we’ve been in the 7th., also quiet and bourgeois. I’ve loved every minute of it and will miss it. It’s not a spot I would have chosen, (we were offered it by friends), so it’s been a great discovery.

Every quartier is different and each has its own character. Some are staid and quiet, others funky and gentrifying, others crazy jammed with tourists.

You flee other tourists!

I fail to see the point, or pleasure, of traveling the world only to be surrounded, in a hotel or hostel, by fellow North Americans — I travel to flee my normal life and its references! By renting a flat, whether you’re alone or with your family, you’re choosing to plant yourself into the country, culture and neighborhood, not cling to the safe and familiar.

You’ll live like a Parisian for a while

Not a bad thing! You’ll shop every day or so for freshly-baked bread, produce, flowers, and the many delicious cheeses. You can stop at a traiteur offering an array of delicious prepared foods, from a roast chicken to a quiche to salads. You’ll line up at la boulangerie for your daily fresh baguette or croissant.

This salmon and spinach quiche cost about $16 from a traiteur gave us several meals and snacks. Delicieux!

This salmon and spinach quiche cost about $16 from a traiteur gave us several meals and snacks. Delicieux!

You can cook!

Maybe your dream is to fully escape the kitchen. But if you love great food, what better pleasure than waking up to a fresh croissant and some runny cheese in the comfort of your temporary home? Making a tisane from some tea you bought around the corner and settling into the sofa? Enjoying a yogurt or fromage blanc? Fresh figs, the fattest asparagus you’ve ever seen…

It’s cheaper and healthier to eat even some of your meals at home plus the added sensual joy of shopping for lovely food in the city’s many street markets…not just racing around an enormous, soulless American grocery store jammed with nasty, useless, fattening junk food. (Yes, I loathe them!)

I pigged out our first week and could barely get into my stockings as a result. The second week, alone, I ate more often at home, consumed less, and many fewer sweets and wine. Voila!

I was amazed by my friend Rebecca — one day after arriving from the U.S. this week, and using a one-burner stove, she made a fantastic meal: bruschetta, green salad, fish stew and a bakery-bought galette du roi. (See, you won’t find that classic dessert on a restaurant menu!)

OK, maybe it looks easy to you!

OK, maybe it looks easy to you!

If you speak French, allez-y! If you don’t, you’ll pick some up quickly

I speak French so I really enjoy chatting to people here, whether asking a law student at the landromat to help me figure out to open the washer door (!) to buying new shoelaces. The city gets so many tourists you’ll find many shopkeepers and retailers able to converse en anglais — but so much better if you quickly adopt the essential habit of saying, every single time, Bonjour monsieur/madame! and Au revoir, monsieur/dame! It’s comme il faut and just a more civilized way to behave.

If you have fantasies of living here more permanently, (as we do), you’ll quickly get a better feel for the place

The sun rises here in late December at 8:43 a.m. Seriously. This city is much further north than you might expect, so days are short and often very cloudy. If you take the bus and Metro as locals do, you’ll experience the utter insanity of rush hour and can enjoy getting lost within the bowels of Chatelet Les Halles mid-renovation — all joys you’d miss if you cab everywhere.

The apartments I’ve been staying in here are both on the ground floor. Easy for luggage and shopping — but they don’t get much daylight. I now realize how essential it would be to rent or own on a higher floor to access the maximum precious sunlight as winter days here also tend to be overcast.

Rue Cler, around the corner from our borrowed apartment...filled with shops

Rue Cler, around the corner from our borrowed apartment…filled with shops

You’ll feel the rhythms of the neighborhood and the city

Almost every building has a concierge or gardien, a man or woman, (like a superintendent), who keeps a careful eye on the building and its inhabitants. In the 7th, our gardien was Marie, a lovely African-American woman with a rocking collection of sneakers, (les baskets!), who also delivered the mail.

You’ll see when shops open and close, and get to know your local merchants a bit as you buy your food and drink. You’ll see dog-walkers and babies in their carriages and kids on their way to and from school.

The oh…

Don’t expect to find a washer, dryer or dishwasher

Most Paris apartments are small, and appliances and furniture scaled accordingly. Many homes will have a small washing machine for clothes, but fewer will also accommodate a dryer and I would never expect to find a dishwasher. Bring enough clothes and/or be prepared to spend an hour at the laundromat or do some hand-washing.

Things will look different — like electrical outlets!

French appliances use a two-pronged plug whose prongs are rounded. Be sure to bring a set of electrical converters with you. I’d also inquire before you arrive about how much power you can safely use before blowing a fuse. (See below!)

Don’t forget — you’ll be thinking and shopping in metric!

So if you want a small portion of meat or cheese or loose tea, think 100 grams, (cent grams, s’il vous plait!); a kilo = 2.2 pounds.

Also, in euros!

So don’t forget that it’s not $10 you’re spending but $13 or $15 or whatever the rate is that week.

Is there an elevator?

I made the mistake on a prior visit of taking a friend’s advice to stay in a flat he had enjoyed. I didn’t even think to ask…and it was a sixth-floor walk-up. Make sure, if you dislike hoofing it with tons of luggage up a narrow staircase, there is un ascenseur.

Is the flat properly heated/cooled?

I’ve been wearing a lot more clothing than I expected to sleep in.

Beware of minuterie

This oh-so-French invention is lighting that only stays on for a few minutes, saving costs for the building. You have to find the hallway and/or stairs light button outside your apartment, (not easy), push it, and move fast! Best to carry with you a mini-flashlight or headlamp.

How good is the apartment’s lighting?

We had only one small bedside lamp. Bring a mini-flashlight — (how to unlock that unfamiliar door in a dark hallway?) —  and a headlamp, available from any camping supply company.

The ohhhhhhh-shit!

Don’t lose the keys!

Don’t forget the door code!

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Remember your address and memorize the nearest Metro stops; functioning while jet-lagged and disoriented and non-French-speaking, (let alone drugged or drunk), is not a great combo.

Bring a large, light, capacious bag for food-shopping. You’ll need it.

Carry a Metro map and Plan de Paris, (or whatever app suits you), so you can always orient yourself quickly. You do not want to be the hapless tourist whose bag is snatched, backpack plundered or pockets picked while you dick around on the Metro or street corner. It happens!

And don’t — as poor Jose did — bring a power strip and try to plug it in. Nope. Blew a fuse and that introduced us to the (very nice) people at our local electric supply shop…after photographing the fusebox, which we did not understand, and emailing the image to our friend whose apartment it is…

Bienvenue a Paris, mes cher(e)s!

Ohlalalalalalala....

Ohlalalalalalala….

Various Parises…more photos!

In beauty, behavior, cities, culture, design, domestic life, life, photography, Style, travel, urban life on December 28, 2014 at 6:52 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s difficult to walk down a block here — for me, anyway! — without snapping a photo, or several. Whether it’s a detail or a landscape or the low, slanting winter light, it’s all there…

More Paris images:

No table here is complete without a fresh baguette, chopped into pieces and served in a basket on the table. Butter is only offered at breakfast, often spread along a split baguette, called a tartine. Delicieux!

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Even grocery shopping can be elegant! Everyone here wheels their grocery cart along the narrow sidewalks, even if they bought their food at a chain store. These carts come in every possible color and style. I loved the black patent one I saw on the Metro the other day. So much more fun than schlepping 12 bags of plastic by hand…

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I never tire of the sense of design here and am irrationally folle de (crazy for) this look using broken tile. This is the bar area of 65 Ruisseau, a great place for (yes, really) a cheeseburger and a beer in Montmarte. And the frites. Sigh.

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This is the street in the 7th arrondissement where we stayed the first two weeks, (moving to L’Isle St. Louis later this month.) These cream-colored curving buildings, with their elegant black ironwork, are typical of the more bourgeois neighborhoods. Each building has some lovely design element to delight the eye — a cherub, some inlaid mosaics, carved roses. There are 20 arrondissements, spiralling out from the center, in a snail shape, from the 1st.  Like every city, each one has its own character, some with mini-neighborhoods within them as well. The 7th. is staid, elegant, very quiet, a mix of residential, monuments and government buildings. Few tourists, typically, head to the 13th, 14th or 15th, as they are almost exclusively residential and a bit of  distance from most of the museums and other attractions.

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King Francis 1, who reigned from 1515 to 1547, used the salamander as his personal symbol, perhaps why this golden salamander encircles a stanchion on the Seine…

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Love these soft leather cafe chairs — small enough to be easy to move around but so comfortable and chic! Wish we could ship a few of them home.

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There is a very large Ferris wheel standing at one side of the Place de la Concorde, 10 euros to ride. It’s a bit windy/freezing when you’re at the very top, (and a little scary!), but ohhhhhh the views. Here is the Garden of the Tuileries, and at the very far end, the Louvre. One one side is the Seine river, on the other, the rue de Rivoli. I took this on Christmas Day, one of the few days here with clear skies and lots of sunshine! You can’t see them, but the pond is circled by olive-green metal chairs in two styles, so you can sit and relax and watch the crowds.

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If New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has his way, this sight will soon disappear from Manhattan — horse-drawn carriages. These colors — cream, beige, black and charcoal gray, are so typical of Paris, whether in exteriors, interiors or fashion.

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Paris snapshots…(mostly food!)

In beauty, cities, culture, design, food, life, travel, urban life on December 25, 2014 at 9:24 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Paris is a city I know and love. I first came here in my early 20s, returned for a year when I was 25 on a journalism fellowship, and have come back as many times since as time and budget allow. I speak fluent French, so I love having the chance to use it and hear it once more.

It’s a city known for the ferocious impatience of its inhabitants, especially to those who speak not a word of French. Maybe it’s me, or the holidays or something in the water, but everyone, this time, has been welcoming and patient, even when (quelle horreur!) I asked to take home the delicious left-overs from a restaurant dinner a few nights ago. They were offered to me in a tidy plastic box, and I was still enjoying them two days later…

The past few visits — the most recent October 2009 — we’ve stayed in a rented apartment on the Ile St. Louis, in the middle of the Seine, with easy walking to the Marais. This time, we’re in the 7th, a quiet, bourgeois, mostly-residential neighborhood. The apartment we’ve borrowed is on the ground floor, absolutely silent, facing a courtyard; the view from bed as I write this is of an ivy-covered wall through tall four-paned windows; it belongs to a photographer and photo editor we know professionally.

Like many such Paris homes, we enter through a heavy door facing the street, using a code on a keypad, then step through an outdoor entrance way guarded by Marie, the friendly concierge. Through another heavy door and we’re into a large, airy courtyard, faced by many other apartments, some with tiny balconies, some of which have a small tree on them.

Maybe everyone is away for the holidays. Or maybe they’re just French — but it’s soooooooo quiet! No traffic noise. No shouting or kids yelling.

I love the apartment’s so-French design details — from the wide, smooth, bare herringbone wood floors to the egg-shaped doorhandles in the middle of the door at waist height. The whoosh of the water-heater in the kitchen is the only sound. The toilet is in its own separate small room — freeeeeeezing! The kitchen floor is red hexagonal tile. (We promised no interior photos, so as to respect our friends’ privacy.)

Some images…

Carbs, carbs, carbs....

Carbs, carbs, carbs….

This is embarrassing! Butter, bread, pastry, pasta…No, we don’t eat like this at home. But a daily fresh baguette is something of a necessity here. The raisin bread at the top of the photo is from Poilane, considered one of Paris’ best bakeries. It’s sliced very thinly but is very satisfying and chewy. Yes, there is even a bar of Lindt chocolate in there as well. Sigh.

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I have never seen meringues the size of a baby’s head. No, we didn’t buy them! There was a long line-up for the bakery where I saw these.

Love 'em!

Love ’em!

Some of you may know the clothing brand Petit Bateau, whose cotton T-shirts are popular for their quality. This is their shop on rue de Grenelle, in the 7th, a few doors from where we’re staying. It also has the most gorgeous baby clothes and shoes.

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One of the many things I so love about Paris is color, and often deep, rich colors I rarely see at home in New York. Here’s a doorway in the 7th.

And the exquisite carving on some buildings….this, on Ave. Bosquet in the 7th (a bourgeois neighborhood.)

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Those of you who know Paris know well some of the designs that are typical — like these broken-tile floors, often found in bistros of a certain era. This is from Le Baratin, a well-known resto in Belleville.

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I was in a florist shop when this woman entered — wearing a long black shawl pinned atop her head, which sported a very tall pile of hair. She walked away down the street with an enormous armload of flowers and her groceries. Note the spectacular periwinkle blue of the shop exterior (a frame store.)

I love the scale and intimacy of the streets here, so very different from New York, where I live.

A street in the 7th.

A street in the 7th.

This quiche was our first food purchase, 13 euros, about $16. It’s salmon and spinach and baked within its own wooden hoop, like a culinary embroidery. One of the best quiches I’ve ever eaten! It’s been much more fun to buy and cook some of our own food at home than eating out three costly meals a day. The apartment we’ve been loaned is steps from the Rue Cler, a famous market street — with multiple wine shops, bakeries, a fish-monger and many other food vendors. Foodie heaven!

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More photos soon…

Sobbing upon departure — when place sears our soul

In behavior, cities, History, life, nature, travel, urban life, women, world on September 1, 2012 at 2:13 am

This weekend I’m visiting Decatur, Georgia, speaking Sept. 2 at the literary festival about my new retail memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.” If you’re in the area, come on by!

I don’t expect to find it hard to leave, but you never know.

There are, I’ve discovered a few times, places in the world that sear your soul, where you unexpectedly feel so at home you can’t bear to leave, plotting your return even as you reluctantly pack your bags.

I rarely cry, especially not in public. But three places, (so far), left me in tears of regret and longing as departed: Corsica, northern Thailand and Ireland.

Corsica

I had one week between the end of one job and the start of another. I was single and craved something absolutely amazing.

I love France and speak French and friends had raved to me for many years about this island, known for its rugged interior — and fierce desire to separate from France.

Corse-bastia-port2

Corse-bastia-port2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I flew from New York to Nice, Nice to Bastia and rented a mo-ped at the port, while the hotel owner in Bastia helped me plot out a five-day circle tour of La Balagne, all in the north. It still remains one of the best holidays of my entire life, (and I’ve been to 37 countries, so far.)

Imagine buzzing along empty, winding country roads in brilliant sunshine, with the maquis, the island’s thick scrubby undergrowth filled with herbs, sending its rich, delicious sun-warmed fragrance into your nostrils. Meander down a series of hairpin turns to a hotel at the ocean’s edge, so close you’ll hear the surf from your bedroom window. It’s a lovely old house from the 1850s or so. You eat dinner, alone, on the terrace at dusk.

One day it poured so heavily I couldn’t wear my glasses, (which I really do need for driving), nor did my helmet have a visor. I got a black trash bag from a restaurant to cover me, and kept on going, whizzing past 1,000-foot drop-offs into the sea. People invited me into their homes for a meal. I chatted with a handsome young mason in a bar, who gave me several CDs, still some of my favorite music ever, the polyphonal a capella group I Muvrini.

The landscape is wild, untamed, primal, timeless. When my plane took off for Nice, I cried so hard the flight attendant came to comfort me and ask what was wrong. I couldn’t even speak for grief, watching the island disappear into the clouds.

I’d found, as I did in every place that has seared my soul so deeply: beauty, peace, scent, kindness, history, adventure.

Here’s the story I wrote about it for The Wall Street Journal.

Northern Thailand

I visited in January 1994 with my husband, our new marriage already in tatters and soon to blow apart.

We’d visited Bangkok and Chang Mai, both standard tourist destinations, and decided, spur of the moment, to fly further north to Mae Hong Son, which one guidebook called the most beautiful town in Thailand. I’ve only seen one other airport — in Bastia — so rural and tiny that sheep grazed a few meters from the runways. As we walked (!) into town, the only sound was that of bells from the temple across the unpaved street.

English: Mae Hong Son, a capital of the Mae Ho...

English: Mae Hong Son, a capital of the Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand Русский: Город Мэхонгсон, административный центр одноимённой провинции (Таиланд) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guesthouses, then $15 a night, ringed a lake. We rented mo-peds, (clearly, my favorite mode of transport), for a day-trip even further north to the Burmese border. Madness! The road, quite literally, was under construction, with huge machines grading the land, their quizzical drivers gazing down at us in pity and wonder.

We went with Roy, an Englishman we’d met at our guesthouse, who’d worked in developing countries delivering vaccines. When the road forked, with a sign we couldn’t read, what next? “Follow the power lines,” Roy said.

The road dust was a thick, silky red, so deep I put my feet out on both sides and used them as pontoons to steady the bike. As we pulled into town for lunch, men wearing extremely large rifles across their chest stared at us — we were now in the Golden Triangle, then the world’s largest suppliers of opium.

We ate lunch, then turned south in the golden late afternoon light, back down the insanely steep hills we’d so eagerly climbed. On one turn, (no guardrails), I got off the bike and had my husband walk it down, too terrified of flying off the road and over the treetops to my certain death. I’d already fallen and shattered the bike’s side mirror, giving me a tiny scar on the inside of my right wrist as a permanent souvenir of the day.

When our plane took off a few days later, having witnessed the town’s legendary three mists, I cried hard. I knew I wouldn’t be back any time soon. And I knew I’d never be there again with that man.

As in Corsica, I’d been transported by the emerald-green landscapes, silence, the kindness and wisdom of strangers. Another deliriously crazy, ill-advised, adrenaline-pumping adventure.

Ireland

I’ve since returned four times, but this was my first visit — in the days just before Christmas of 1985 — visiting a friend, a fellow journalist, in Dublin.

With a surname of Kelly, you’d think I’d identify heavily as Irish, but I don’t and never had. Like me, my father was born in Canada.

But, there, everywhere, were people who looked like me. Who loved to chat, and prized witty, intelligent conversation. Who liked a good glass of beer. Who valued the ability to burst into song.

I felt at home in a way that hit me hard, that I’d never felt in my native land or my home city, Toronto.

Stores and restaurants and passing delivery vans had my name on them!

As I filed into the small aircraft that flew me to Bristol to visit my mother, I found myself blinking back tears.

And every visit back to Ireland since then seems to touch a sort of sense memory, a “me” that maybe existed 100 or 1,000 years ago. Maybe I was Grainne, the 16th. century pirate queen!

Here’s a beautiful post, recently chosen for Freshly Pressed,by a female American professor about how living in Afghanistan at the age of 10 so deeply affected her.

Has this sort of geographic coup de foudre happened to you?

When and where?

My greatest weakness is…

In behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life on April 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm
La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:fr. La ori...

La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:fr. La originala priskribo estas: Six fromages (du centre, puis dans le sens des aiguilles d'une montre) : Valençay, Ossau Iraty, Bleu d'Auvergne, Époisses, Cœur de Neuchatel, Saint-félicien. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was talking to a friend who’s a doctor who admitted he can’t be safely left near any large container of ice cream. It’s all or nothing.

Made me think what my weakness(es) might be.

Sadly, it’s a long-ish list, including:

Tabletop. Anything used to set a table, from bowls to linens to candlesticks. Yes, yes, all of it! I love to set a pretty table and entertain, so I collect anything charming in aid of same. Jose threatens often to de-bowl me as I keep bringing them into our small apartment.

Antiques. Specifically, jewelry, textiles, prints. Anything from 1860 and earlier, and 18th century and older is a big draw, if more difficult to find here in the New World.  We live in a one bedroom apartment, with very limited space to add anything new. But (yes, I admit) we also have a garage. And a storage locker. OK, several storage lockers. Small ones.

Scarves. As someone who loves to travel and pack lightly, scarves are a fab way to make the same outfit look different every day, doubling as shawls or even sarongs when necessary, adding warmth and style.

Almost anything French. My new hip even has a ceramic head made in France. Chic! Having lived in Paris for a year and traveled to France many times, j’adore les choses francaises. These include everything from my polka-dot apron and mini-juicer, both bought in Paris, to a funky little Art Deco perpetual calendar to my super well-cut black cotton jacket whose elegant proportions are so utterly not made in China.

If you’ve never heard the late, exquisite chanteuse Barbara or the raspy Mano Solo, check them out.

— Cheese. Speaking of things French. My friend who loves ice cream went into a little lusty haze as he began rhyming off some of his favorite French cheeses: Brie, Camembert. I’d add Cantal, Roquefort, Gouda, Cheddar, fresh creamy Mozzarrella. Yum!

— Beer. As a Canadian, this is a legitimate weakness, as some great brews come from my home and native land. If you ever get to Quebec, try to find this gorgeous apricot tinged ale. Love Magic Hat No. 9, Hoegaarden and Blue Moon (even though it’s really made by a major manufacturer of really bad beer, Coors.)

Jewelry. Thank heaven for a husband who indulges me! I buy a ring to mark major life moments, like the silver one I bought at Saks when I sold my first book and a gold ring, with the impression of an ancient Greek coin, bought from a local designer, when it was published. I love wearing my Deco earrings from the LA flea market, my pottery ring from Mesilla, NM and my pendant charms found in Atlanta.

‘Fess up, mes cher(e)s…what are some of your weaknesses?

Sniff! My Favorite Smells

In behavior, culture, design, domestic life, Health, life, nature, women on March 26, 2011 at 2:16 am
Grasse

Grasse, France, home to many delicious smells! Image via Wikipedia

As spring sunshine slowly warms the earth, you can smell the new season. Where I live, in  a small town north of New York City, the pungent and specific odor of fresh wild onion — their thin, bright green sprigs poking up everywhere — is one I look forward to every year.

One of my most powerful scent memories, decades old now, was driving through the North Carolina night down a winding rural road when a huge, delicious whiff of wild jasmine suddenly filled the car. Yum!

Some of my favorite smells:

Good leather

Clean dog

Warm horse

Old wool

Jet fuel (I’m going somewhere!)

Woodsmoke

Balkanie Sobranie pipe tobacco, lit or unlit

Lilacs

Hyacinth

Maja soap, a classic with the most elegant black tissue paper wrapping

Oilliet-Mignardise soap by Roger & Gallet, a spicy smell of carnations. Heaven in a box!

Tiempe Passate, a super-hard-to-find perfume made by New York perfumer Antonia Bellanca

Sun-dried pine needles

1881 cologne, the 1955 classic by Nino Cerruti, the one my sweetie wore the night we met 11 years ago

Cedar

The ocean

Moist earth

A well-made gin martini

Earl Grey tea, freshly steeped (yes, it’s the bergamot)

Grasse, in the south of France, has been a center of the perfume industry for many years and has a museum of scent.

Here’s a link to a Mallorca museum with some rural smells of the past.

What are some of your favorite smells?

The Man To Whom I’m Most Grateful

In behavior, business, education, History, Media, men, politics, travel, women, work, world on November 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm

My photo, from 1982.

He’s someone you’ve likely never heard of, although he’s a well-known and beloved figure in his native France. I dedicated my first book to him and include him — more than 25 years dead — in my second book’s acknowledgements.

Philippe Viannay, (the photo here of him is one I took),  is the most inspiring man I’ve ever met. He founded a newspaper, a sailing school, a journalism school, an international journalism fellowship and a home for wayward boys.

All this, after being a Resistance hero during World War II.

He was in his 60s when we met in Paris, when I was chosen as one of 28 journalists, aged 25 to 35, from 19 countries as Journalists in Europe, an eight-month fellowship that forever changed my life and my notions of what was possible in it, both professionally and personally.

His idea, simple but complicated to fund, was to find the world’s best and most eager bilingual journalists to come and live and travel all over Europe, learning about its people and politics by living them, not parachuting in for a week or studying it only in a classroom.

We each took a 10-day reporting trip, alone, four times, some of which scared us to death — and often produced our best work. No one thought I’d survive the eight-day truck trip from Perpignan to Istanbul with Pierre, the 35-year-old trucker from Rheims. Best trip ever!

Our group, which still remains in touch, included men and women from countries including Brazil, Japan, Italy, New Zealand, Ireland, Togo and Sweden, forging deep and ongoing international friendships.  I now consider Paris a second home and plan to retire to France, at least part-time.

That year also taught me the world is filled with kind people, many unusual ways to get around, amazing and untold stories begging for passionate narrators. The greatest skill we brought — or developed, fast — was se debrouiller — to fend for ourselves. To figure it out. To be resourceful and get it done.

Viannay was joyful, demanding, impatient, demanded the best of everyone. He called me “le terrible Caitlin” — which I finally realized was a great, affectionate compliment, meaning “terrific”, not awful.

He died in 1986. I’ve never cried at work, except for the day I came back to the Montreal Gazette newsroom to hear that news. Amazingly, that room contained two other former fellows, two men who also knew the extraordinary gift Viannay and his progam had given us.

In June 2007, I made the pilgrimage, long overdue, to his grave in his hometown of Concarneau, in Brittany. It was a hot day when I entered the small graveyard and began searching for his final resting place. Surely, given all his extraordinary accomplishments, it was marked with a slab of gleaming granite or an an enormous angel.

I couldn’t find it and finally asked the guard to show it to me.

It was simple and understated, easily missed, just a flat, jagged slab of raw stone, a rock from his beloved Glenans, the sailing school he founded.

I slapped his stone, sat down beside him, and sobbed for a long, long time. My career had nosedived and I felt little but despair at the lost early promise he saw, and nurtured, in me.

More than anyone, he believed in me and my talents, for which I remain in his debt.

Viannay now lives on in every single person whose life he touched.

I remain forever grateful I’m one of them.

She Killed Eight Of Her Babies — And The Husband Had No Clue

In behavior, parenting, women on July 29, 2010 at 10:04 am
Sleep Like A Baby

Image by peasap via Flickr

This is the story in France right now, with the BBC reporting there are already 40 journalists in the tiny rural town of Villers-au-Tertre, near the Belgian border.

The woman, a nurse in her 40s who has two daughters and grand-children, confessed to killing eight of her own babies between 1989 and 1996, but only two corpses have been found at their current home. Police suspect she might have brought the other corpses with her when they moved in.

The woman, mordbidly obese, managed to keep every pregnancy secret from her husband.

Not sure if this story is more a cautionary tale against morbid obesity or abortion versus infanticide.

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