Nice Knockers: Dome Nature
Adventures in cancer treatments, plastic surgery, French architecture, painting, inexplicable French policies, and cheese.
Let Them Eat Cake: Coeur de Marie
Marie Antoinette, a mistake, cuteness overload, and the Treat-y of Versailles
Then, Now, Wow!: Reblochon de Savoie
How much has Paris changed in 100 years? Both less, and more, than you'd expect.
Un-continent: Rodat de Brebis
You may consider me -- or yourself -- North American. But the French would disagree
Dec 23, 2015
Dec 15, 2015
Dec 9, 2015
So what does Paris look like when you're no longer smack dab in the middle of DisneyParis on Ile Saint Louis? Well, it looks like actual Paris. Both the good and the bad -- shops, bus stops, metro stations, markets, but also homeless people and the occasional garbage pile. It took a while to get from point A to point B: the feast in Paris may be moveable, but it's a pain in the ass to find a place to move it to and a hassle to get it there.
Dec 1, 2015
One year, one psychologist appointment, one mammogram, one sonogram, one MRI, one genetic test, one genetic counselor meeting, and five doctors appointments later, I am finally given permission to do my second mastectomy in France. Considered purely preventative (in the sense that I am currently cancer-free), it took a lot of convincing the French powers that be that I am not insane, nor mutilating my body on a whim. Hallelujah!
Nov 24, 2015
Bruxelles is on lockdown, the streets of central Paris are certainly quieter than usual, and nearly every outing begs the question "Is our destination even going to be open? Is it safe? And how can we get there?" On Friday, a week after the Paris terrorist attacks, Pippa misses gymnastics because the metro line we want shuts down for a "colis suspect" ("suspicious package"). By the time we can re-orient, she'll get there too late. I write a note to her coach to explain but mis-type it as "coulis suspect" ("suspicious fruit sauce"). I plan to attribute it to auto-correct.
Nov 15, 2015
Paris, peaceful. What is should look like. What it should feel like.
On Friday, the day of the attacks, I pass by this sign which reads, in translation, "We, French Muslims, against the terrorism of the UOIF" (which stands for Union des Organisations Islamiques de France). In the background is the Institute du Monde Arabe, the Institute of the Arab World, a very open and welcoming museum and center for learning in the 5th arrondissement, not too far from the Great Mosque, which saved hundreds of Jews in World War II.
Nov 10, 2015
Nov 4, 2015
If the 800 year old cathedrals, cobble-stoned streets, and bread bakers on every corner aren't enough to remind me, within the past 24 hours, several other things have really driven home the fact that I'm not in the US. One is this sign for the restaurant called, essentially, "The Happy Negro" with its picture of a happy black servant waiting on a very upper-crust white client.
Oct 22, 2015
Moving day turns out to be a pretty moving day for us. Just before we have to move out of our home for four years, on Ile St. Louis, we realize that Pippa no longer remembers our house in San Francisco, so this is literally the only home she knows. Needless to say, there are many tears as we leave. Thank goodness we're only leaving for the 5th arrondissement, and not leaving Paris altogether, or we'd be a complete mess. What's amazing is that for the entire week beforehand, it's as if our view is giving us the grandest, most loving send-off it can: gorgeous sunset after gorgeous sunset, with some fabulous night and day views thrown in for good measure.
Oct 7, 2015
Give me a placebo, a miracle lotion, or some snake oil, and I'll show you about 60 million French people that believe wholeheartedly in its healing powers. The feeling here is that if it fizzes, comes in a handy dispenser, tastes bad, tastes good, must be dissolved in water, must be eaten dry, gets rubbed in, or is shoved up the ass, then it must certainly work. No matter what the claim, the French buy in.
Oct 2, 2015
I dub it "brunner". The French, however, call it "le brunch", even though they have no idea why they are calling it "le brunch" and do not actually understand that it's a combination of the words "breakfast" and "lunch". I have no idea why they are calling it "le brunch" either, for different reasons: in general, the restaurants start serving it after noon -- sometimes well after noon -- till almost dinner time. Therefore "brunner" (breakfast, lunch, dinner) it is.
Sep 27, 2015
Touted as the first car-free day (journée sans voiture) in Paris, it's neither completely car-free, nor completely covering Paris. But it's a glorious Indian summer day with sunny blue skies, less air pollution than usual, huge line-ups for Velib' (city rental bikes), and everybody and their mother with the same idea: to ride up the Champs-Elysées. I'm one of those mothers.
Sep 22, 2015
Sep 15, 2015
Do not read this post if you are afraid of heights, falling, rushing water, lightning, thunder, or being stuck in precarious places. Do not read this post if you get nervous by the thought of isolated places, children left alone, the opening set-up of horror films, going off-trail, lying, or cold water. And most of all do not tell my mother to read this post about a few days spent in the Parc National de Mercantour.
Sep 10, 2015
When we were at Guédelon, the medieval castle being built in modern Burgundy, they told us that during a recent renovation, modern equipment reached many meters deep into the interior of some of the walls of the Roman Arena at Nîmes and discovered that the 2,000 year old mortar had still not quite dried. This is part of what allows the structure to withstand all the rigors of time, and also what draws me to the Nîmes Arena.
Sep 5, 2015
You know how some places just call to you, for no great reason? I've always wanted to see the Camargues, simply because the ingredient list of riz au lait (French rice pudding) includes
Camargues rice. When we spend a week this summer in Aix-en-Provence, I finally get my chance. It's an unusual spot in France, and besides the rice paddies, there are flamingos, bulls, bull-fights and flamenco-dancing (we're not too far from Spain, after all).
Bulls are big around here -- literally and figuratively. There are bull fights in the local arena advertised, but there is no chance we are going. Anthony and I saw a real bull fight about 15 years ago, and we found ourselves unapologetically rooting for the bull. The "fight" seems so unfair and cruel: a bunch of guys stabbing a bull to both enrage and weaken him, so that the matador can get flashy and kill him. I think if we had even suggested it, Gigi (our resident near-vegetarian for humanitarian reasons) would have disowned the whole family. There are bull testicles and bull steaks and bull sausages on the local menus, and we don't try those either. We don't even see any real bulls, since we spend our time by the beach, due to the scorching heat. I do take a photo of this bull sign, however, mostly because I love the name of one of the wines: "Vin de Merde" ("Shit Wine").
We decide to see the flats by bike, which would be a great idea if it weren't over 90°F (roughly 34°C).
Still, it seems a better option than doing a jeep, horse, or boat tour of the area. On those, they might take you up through the waterways to see a bull round-up here in French cowboy country. It's the kind of place where you can buy a saddle for a souvenir.
But we like the bike option because it means we can stop wherever we want and hop in the water, whether it's a popular beach...
Pippa's so pink from heat, she's either about to pass out or spontaneously combust, so we don't even make it too far, but at least we get to see our flamingos!
The name, which means "Melting Blue", or better yet (if less grammatically correct) "Melty Blue", has the classic blue mold streaks and speckles. It's also got the classic blue cheese tang, just less powerful and delicious than a high-end raw milk version. Still, it's creamy, as the packaging promises, and not bad tasting, especially if you just need some blue cheese sprinkled over your salad or your steak.
Because we're melting by the bright blue sea, why not a blue cheese for melting? Also, it's a cow cheese for bull country (I'm quite sure there are no flamingo cheeses).
Sep 1, 2015
About the only island off the coast of France most people have ever heard of is Corsica. And a good number don't even know it's officially French, and no longer Italian. It turns out there are tons of tiny islands scattered just off the coast. Of these, the most famous and popular destination for French (and sometimes British) tourists is Ile de Ré just off of La Rochelle. Because it's so famous, it gets super crowded during every break, especially summer, and we've never been able to a) get around to making reservations on time and b) bring ourselves to face the crazy crowds.
Not so on Ile d'Yeu, where you can't ferry your car over, and wouldn't want to anyway, since the island is so small you can bike around it comfortably in a day, even with multiple, long stops. Off the coast of the Vendée, it feels like a real escape: the French word for it is "dépaysement" which I see translated as "disorienting" and "scenery", though it translates more literally as "change of country". In any event, all seem correct, as the scenery and feel are so different from mainland France, it actually feels disorienting, like you've literally changed countries. And latitudes. Except for the temperature of the water, I would swear I was in the tropics.
Even if you rent bikes for just one day and you want to bike around the whole island you've still got plenty of time for the beach, to visit the 16th century castle (cleverly called "Le Vieux Château", or "The Old Castle").
It's a pretty laid-back place, and we try (but fail) to imagine what it would be like to live out here. All year round.
Other small islands in the area, off the western coast of the Vendée and Bretagne, in the Atlantic Ocean, include a bunch even the French have never heard of: Ile d'Aix, Ile de Noirmoutier, Hoedic, Ile d'Houat, Belle-Ile-en-Mer, Groix, Ile St.-Nicolas, and Ile-de-Sein (literally, Island-of-Breast) which, coincidentally not too far off the coast of Brest. At the northwestern tip of France, there's Ile de Béniguet, Ile de Morgol, Ile de Litiri (and the neighboring Petit Litiri), Ile de Quéménès, Lédénez Quéménès, Les Guiniman, Ile aux Chrétiens (Island of the Christians), Ile de Triélen, Ile Molène, Lédénez Vraz and Vihan, Iroise, Ouessant (which is big enough to have an airport), and as you round the corner, there are at least a hundred more just off the northern coast of Bretagne in the Channel.
Which brings me to Sark (called Sercq in French), not just a little island off the coast of France that you can bike around, but also a little country off the coast of France that you can only bike around. The whole nation is car-free, with horse-drawn carriages and just a few farm tractors to help tourists get their luggage uphill. Unless you like doing things the hard way, as we do, and you carry it uphill yourself. Or, more accurately, you have your daddy carry it up himself (I do, indeed, carry my own).
Sark has a population of just under 500 people, and there is only one bank in the nation, with the ATM locked inside it. Luckily, everybody on the island takes credit cards, because we are completely out of cash and here on a weekend.
You can ride around the entire country -- every bikeable road there is -- in just a couple hours at a leisurely pace, stopping for many photos. Though it's only a couple hour ferry ride from France, it's a world apart; in this case literally a dépaysement, change of country, as you need to cross national borders.
THE CHEESE: Fleur de Ré
Fleur de Ré is a raw goats' milk cheese made with salt gathered on Ile de Ré. The cheese comes from just across the bridge, on the mainland, in Deux-Sèvres.
The company that makes it, La Case Bleue, was founded in 1995, so it's a relatively recent cheese. However, the company founder Brigitte Viollet purposely based her creations on classic, high-quality local cheeses, made in the greatest of all goat cheese regions, Poitou-Charentes. Fleur de Ré, in the best local tradition, is a very mild, soft, and silky cheese with just a hint of salt, despite being named for salt.
Named after France's most famous little north coast, pseudo-tropical, island, this is a heavenly little drop of a cheese.
These, on the other hand, are actually the fleurs (flowers) de Sark, but I'm sure Ile de Ré has similar botanical species.