The French Touch

Paris Victoria and Journal

We cannot always have Paris, but we can all have a touch of Paris in our homes.   I was surprised when I looked around my humble maison, (which more resembles a B&B), how much of a French influence I have in my surroundings, but they are small touches, understated, like the French themselves, where less is more.    The French way of life is one of order, elegance, proper routine and a good dose of perfectionism – of course this might just be a myth perpetuated by smug French women!    (The Victoria magazine cover Oct 2000 is just so French – I collect the back issues and the annual French edition is always inspiring.  This years French edition is in May/June).

Victoria Magazine French Edition

Victoria – May/June 2018 French Edition

A favorite flea market sign from Winners, in my front hallway.  (Note B&B wallpaper as I have not finished renovating the house yet, although the outside is done, but I don’t mind the wallpaper so it may have to stay).Paris Flea Market

My first and only attempt at stenciling hangs in the dining room, (don’t look too close, you really have to glue those stencils on well). Paris Sign

Who doesn’t love lavender.   I have lavender everywhere, in bowls, sachets, vases, soap….


Paris hatboxes and journals….


A special Renoir journal for jotting down blog ideas.


A silk scarf a friend brought me back from Paris many years ago, in my favorite color blue. Paris

And of course no aspiring Parisian would be complete without a navy striped boat neck sweater, (and some red lipstick).Paris striped shirt

HappyHauteHome, (check out her elegant blog on the modern French country home) posted about a French provincial home for sale, which looks like my dream house, but until I win the lottery, I will just have to be content with my petite accents.    To be French is an attitude, a state of mind, oui?

What blog would be complete without une recommandation de livre.

The French way of life is a call to pay attention, an appreciation of all matters large and small, including food, which is to be savored without guilt or worry.   I can smell those fresh baguettes already.    French Women Don’t Get Fat.

French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for PleasureFrench Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable read, this book certainly provided a different way of looking at eating, for pleasure and without guilt about calories or cholesterol. I think I’ll go for a long walk to the boulangerie….like the French do!

After reading so much about their chocolat chaud, I decided to try making my own.   I added four squares of Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate (but any good dark chocolate would do), to a bit of water and microwaved it well until it melted into a nice chocolatey gooey mess, then a few teaspoons of sugar and the milk, and microwaved it again until hot.  Um….like drinking a chocolate bar.   Maybe best to add  only add two squares……  

My only venture into French cooking was a failed attempt at beef bourguignon which I ruined by using a cheap red burgundy, despite the advice of the LCBO clerk that I should trade up to a better vintage.  She was adamant, I did not listen.   I hadn’t shopped at the liquor store for years (other than an annual trek at Christmas to buy rum for the pudding), and was horrified by the wine prices, when I only needed a cup and a half?    The best that could be said for it was that it was edible….if you were very hungry and very poor like Hemingway in his early days.

One day while shopping at a very expensive bakery ($55 for a birthday cake – let them eat Betty Crocker!), I spied a lovely tray of pastel macarons, and even though they were $2.50 per cookie I decided to splurge – totally tasteless.    If this is what Proust was going on about with his French madeleines, I think I’ll pass. The best part of the cookie by far was the turquoise color.   It’s good to try new things sometimes, if only to find out what you don’t like.   I do like crepes though, my favorite tea shop used to offer an excellent chicken and mushroom crepe until they closed due to a rent increase.   On my farewell visit I asked the owner for the recipe, and she said just make a basic roux, so I did, but my roux was thick and pasty from too much floor.   Julia Child I am not, so I will need to try again as I do miss the tea shop.  We have no need to fear the cream filled calories of France however, as gardening season will soon be here and now that spring has sprung, we can walk it off.     Next week we will be in Italy, along the coast, bring sunscreen.   Until then enjoy the spring flowers.

Muguet du bois,

Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley





April in Paris – Part Two

Paris – the City of Love.  How many romantic movies begin and end there, complete with visions of strolling along the Seine beneath the chestnut trees with your amour.  Continuing our Parisian theme (see April in Paris – Part One) with some bibliotherapy for the Francophile may I present a book that is simply enchante.     A Paris Year – by Janice MacLeod      (My Good-reads review below)

A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the WorldA Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World by Janice Macleod

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Janice MacLeod’s first book, Paris Letters, chronicled her Paris adventures after she quit her job, sold everything she owned and moved to the City of Light.   This sequel, A Paris Year, is more like a personal journal of her year there, full of photos and illustrations, (she is a watercolor artist).   The cover alone is gorgeous, and the pages are a visual treat.  While there, she acquired a French husband who just nodded when she told him she was making a pretty book about Paris, and that’s exactly what it is. Should be required reading for anyone contemplating a trip to Paris, so they know what to expect, and for the rest of us who only dream.  A charming, thoroughly enjoyable book.

I noticed this book in the bookstore because of it’s beautiful cover, (one of the author’s watercolor paintings),

A Paris Year - Janice MacLeod
A Paris Year – Janice MacLeod

but at $35 Cdn plus tax, decided to order it through the library instead, but I enjoyed it so much I bought it.  Although I had read her earlier book Paris Letters it didn’t grab my attention the way this one did.  Perhaps because I thought the ending was too pat, in a we-must-have-a-happy-ending for the book way (there is a wedding picture of her and her French husband on the last page), but then I felt the same way about Eat Pray Love, and look how that turned out, despite a subsequent book on staying Committed.   It is wise to be skeptical of a relationship where two people don’t speak the same language and don’t seem to have anything in common (ah yes, but love is not always wise, and as the song says, is for the very young), but frankly as an older more cynical person I was worried about her.   An exception would be Colin Firth in Love Actually, who learned Portuguese so he could communicate with his new love, but I think we might all learn The King’s Speech if Colin Firth was involved.   There is an admirable degree of bravery in wanting a different life and doing something about it, but when you are older you realize there doesn’t always have to be a guy at the end for it to be  a happy ending.   Just once I would like one of these memoir travel type books to end with the author just sitting Under the Tuscan sun, gazing contentedly at the gorgeous view…..and if the gorgeous view happened to include your own Colin Firth that would be okay too!   (I think I shall write it myself – “Our middle-aged (but well preserved due to French beauty secret), heroine-in-waiting is sitting on the terrace of her French villa on a soft summer evening, a glass of chilled Chablis in hand, contemplating the calming rows of lavender waving in the evening breeze and thinking how lucky she is to be here in the lovely light of Provence…. 

Provence Lavender Farm - AMC - 2017
Provence Lavender Farm – 2017

…when suddenly she observes a man walking up the lane.”   The End.  

Is it a) a lost tourist  b) the vin delivery garcon  c) a uniformed police detective or d) Mr. Darcy.    The answer is e) all of the above.   Stay tuned for the sequel, Murder in Provence, wherein our lovely heroine meets Inspector Darcie LeDuc, who is investigating a series of murders involving art thieves, wine merchants and lost tourists, with plenty of dead bodies sprinkled in the lavender fields and vineyards.  Will she be next?)      

But I digress (badly), enough about fairy tale endings, forever after and just for the moment.   I am glad it all worked out for them because they are now living in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  (link to her website Paris Letters Press)  She has a very nice website and also paints and writes a monthly personal letter on Paris which she sends out via snail mail, a business which enabled her to finance her stay there.   In the About section she says her first book was about her move to Paris, but her second is about being an artist in Paris, which is one of the reasons I liked it so much.   It was just like being there – there were lots of photographs and quirky journal entries about her cafe observations and day to day life in the city.   Plus her paintings were charming, but then I am partial to watercolors.    

A Paris Year - Janice MacLeod

A page from A Paris Year – Janice MacLeod

 It is a lovely book visually speaking, an illustrated journal on good quality paper with a beautiful cover, in the same vein as the Susan Branch books on Martha’s Vineyard and England.  (if you are not familiar with Susan Branch check her out, her blogs are so inspirational and she is currently blogging on her trip to Cornwall and England).   I suspect that type of book, which is basically a hard cover blog, is expensive for a publishing company to produce which could be why Susan Branch now publishes her own.    Anyway, both are good reads for armchair travelers.

I split this blog into two, because someone told me my blogs are too long, and the April Love section seemed like it deserved it’s own topic.   Does anyone remember the fragrance, Evening in Paris?   One of the most popular fragrances in the fifties,  it was a light floral fragrance in a blue cobalt bottle (you can still find some of the bottles on e-bay), evoking images of l’heure bleue in the city of love.   I have a visual image of my mother wearing her Jackie Kennedy-like sapphire blue dress and beads, dabbing perfume behind her ears, and then bending down to give us red lipstick kisses on our arms, on the rare occasion she went out in the evening.   Somehow spraying perfume doesn’t have the same degree of glamour.   Last year while cleaning out my mother’s house I came across a bottle of French perfume stashed below the bathroom sink.

Vintage French Perfume

Vintage French Perfume – Chat Noir

My mother says it was a gift from my father in the early years of their marriage, which would make it over 60 years old.   When I opened it, it still had the sweet smell she remembered, as it had been kept in a cloth bag, in a dark spot, the way you should store expensive perfume.  A perfume can evoke an era, a love story, a moment in time.   It reminded me of Bogie’s promise to Bacall, we’ll always have Paris.   Here’s to romance – may you always have a small piece of Paris in your heart to reminisce about on starry nights.  

Van Gogh Sketchbook

Postscript:   In my university days I wore Je Reviens, and later in my 20’s and 30’s Ombre Rose, then I mostly abandoned perfume because so many places, work and social, have no-scent laws now.   My bottle of Ombre Rose from three years ago is still half full.   Do you wear perfume, and do you have a favorite scent, or a scent that reminds you of a certain time in your life? 

April in Paris – Part One

Move to Paris…..learn French….write a book.   Who hasn’t had that dream someday. Even if we can’t go there ourselves, we can still read about other people’s trips in the delightful little book, A Paris All Your Own.    My Good-reads review below.

A Paris All Your Own: Bestselling Women Writers on the City of LightA Paris All Your Own: Bestselling Women Writers on the City of Light by Eleanor Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an engaging little book of essays about Paris by women writers who have been there, mostly to research their Paris-based books, and like the title says, each one has their own story, some good, some bad, but all are different. I appreciated the honesty of those who said they didn’t enjoy Paris all that much, as it has always been a dream destination of mine and now I don’t feel quite so bad about what I am missing. Expectations are best kept realistic to avoid disappointment…but can anything ever live up to the romantic promise of Paris? I particularly enjoyed the biographies at the end of each section, as I picked up some new authors and books to explore, and their advice on what to see and what to skip will be valuable if I ever do get there some day.

While I was familiar with some of the authors in this book, for example Paula McLean of The Paris Wife, (a novel about Hadley Hemingway), there are some new ones I can add to my to-read list.   I appreciated their candor – while most enjoyed their trips, one went home two weeks early,  one had children who were bored, one’s mother-daughter trip didn’t quite turn out as planned, another just wanted to be left alone to write and declined all invitations to socialize in her writer’s residence.   I could sympathize with that, when you are in the flow you hate interruptions even if the distraction is Paris!  (If Hemingway had done more writing and less socializing he might have kept his first wife).  One writer mentioned that April is not the best month to visit Paris.  It rains a lot, she said, May is better, but the chestnut trees are out in April and then there is that song.

I cannot travel at the moment, and my French is abysmal.   Although Canada is a bilingual country, (we have two official languages so everything is written in both), the reality is most people outside of the province of Quebec do not speak it, and Quebecois french is different than Paris french.   My french is limited to the back of the cereal box.   My education consisted of twenty minutes of french twice a week in grades 7 & 8, mostly concerning the Leduc family – Madame and Monsieur LeDuc and their enfant terrible, Henri.  I recall they were always scolding their chien, so I would know to be careful when walking in the streets, (non chien scooping laws).   They seemed to eat plenty of gateau, so I could probably navigate my way around a confectionaire/pâtisserie too.   My accent was horrible so I abandoned la LeDuc famille in high school as soon as I could.  Today if you want your child to learn french you send them to a french immersion ecole, a much more sensible method. 

While I have no dreams of being Hemingway, I would like to visit Shakespeare & Company as bookstores are my thing, and that stationary store (Melodies Graphiques) mentioned in the book sounds divine too, a whole store devoted to paper and pens and different colored inks.   Some day I hope to visit Paris, and see all the famous paintings, eat bread, take a boat trip along the Seine and visit Monet’s garden.    One of the things about my mother’s late-in-life art career is she is too old to travel and see all the art museums.   You should do your traveling when you are young and poor like Hemingway.   (Quote: “There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”)   Then later you can write your memoirs and become rich and famous, if you are very lucky.    Hemingway

We can’t all be as famous as Hemingway but we can all write a little something, a blog or a journal or a book, (and we don’t have to move to Paris to do it).   I am sure there were times when Hemingway wondered if what he was writing would ever be of interest to anyone, but it is helpful to remember that there is always someone out there reading.   And even if that person is only yourself, you are documenting your life, in the same manner as Janice MacLeod did while in Paris (see Part Two next week).     

One of the nice things about blogging is you can find a blog about anything that interests you anywhere in the world.  In my Word-press travels I have discovered two wonderful blogs on Paris and France.                                                                                                                 an English ex-pat’s blog on her adventures in Paris                                                                            (for armchair travelers to the City of Lights)                                                                                 unemployed with a cabbage/tot – tales of family life in France                                                 (Jane Austen is reincarnated and living in rural France)                                                            

Au revoir mon cheris….until next week….Part Deux

Song of the Day:  Andrea Bocelli – La Vie en Rose

Quote of the Day:  “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”    (Ernest Hemingway – A Moveable Feast)

Eiffel Tower - AMc - Feb 2018

Eiffel Tower – Feb 2018