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France – Le Bonheur Ultime!

November 8, 2015 @ 10:22 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

I’m waxing poetic today; so if you’re immersed in left-brain sensibilities, you might want to read the Wall Street Journal. You see, I’m taking a trip this morning with Isak Dinesen, a trip to France via her Africa, a trip through her embrace of the land, the people and life itself. A captivating author, I never tire of her writing. But my journey is to France, a mental wandering with no need for luggage or passports or airport delays.

Loire Valley, France

Magnificent breakfast view of Chateau Chambord

Ms. Dinesen wrote: “If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”

And my soliloquy translates to France: If I know a song of France, of the markets and the cityscapes of Paris and Lyon, of the Provençal hills and winding roads along the sea, of the artisans yielding the skill of generations, does France know a song of me? Will the water along the Seine reflect a color I have worn, or the children name a sailboat in the Tuileries for me, or a sliver of the moon shine with the joy I have felt in Normandy, or will the glistening cloak of night over the Loire valley tell my story?

Alas, I am not Isak, though she always will be one of my favorite authors. She immersed herself in Africa; we chose France. She carried her civilized Limoges and white gloves to live among the Masai. We chose a simple tablecloth and basket to picnic along the coast.

She also wrote: “Up in this air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.”

Paris France

Raclettes and fondue in a cozy cafe

We have felt ‘where we ought to be’ … on a terrace overlooking Château de Chambord in the morning light … in the lush garden of a huge but gentle man outside of Amboise …  among the rainbow of fruits and vegetables in the marketplace along rue Mouffetard.

Yet, topping all of the glorious sights and scents of France, the quiet murmur of shared friendship trumps everything else. Dinner on a cold night in a warm bistro. Melting raclettes and savory fondue, pichets of wine and the familiar sound of an accordionist meandering among the guests. Sharing this with our Parisian friends – le bonheur ultime!

Paris raclettes

Warm food & friendship in Paris

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Rendant Grâce – Give Thanks!

November 5, 2015 @ 6:49 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan
Paris kitchens France

Petite cuisine in our favorite Parisian rental

We are creatures of tradition, if not habit. Working back in my mind through many years, I believe I have been away from home for only one Thanksgiving.  Then, I visited friends in Canada, who already had celebrated their Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October; and to boot, I’m not sure my children ever forgave my shocking absence!

Thinking about being in Paris for Thanksgiving set me on this road, so to begin with, the French don’t celebrate our revered holiday … per se. They launched a new tradition, though, four years ago in September – Fête de la Gastronomie.  The curator of the initial gala, Sophie Mise, explained accurately:  “…gastronomy is so very omnipresent that we had almost forgotten to celebrate it!”

So there’s the first ‘kink’ in traditional Thanksgiving celebrations in Paris. But hold on.  If any city in the world can play empathetic host, it is the City of Light.  Besides, the burgeoning numbers of American expats in Paris boost the demand curve considerably.  (Our government doesn’t track the numbers, but one columnist guessed about 50,000).

For the potential self-prepared Thanksgiving feast, many butchers and even some outdoor markets sell turkeys. That’s not an absolute, so I would arrange my bird purchase in advance. Then there are a couple of specialty shops – Real McCoy’s in the 7th and Thanksgiving (yes – the actual store name) in the 4th, where you can find our American oddities, like fresh yams and brown sugar and cranberry sauce.

Then there’s the business of oven size. The largest oven in any of our prior vacation rentals was a range/oven/dishwasher combo with a decidedly shallow oven space – tall enough, perhaps, to manage a well-endowed pigeon but no match for a plump turkey. And, before you question my sanity about that appliance combo, I not only wouldn’t make it up, I couldn’t in my wildest imagination!  Such is the drive to manage small spaces in Paris!

Paris France thanksgiving

Joe Allen in Paris … a la New York

Frankly, if we were fortunate enough to walk the streets of Paris this Thanksgiving, we would simplify life and make reservations at Joe Allen Paris in the 1st arrondissement.

As long as we are daydreaming, I might see if they would deliver our piping hot Thanksgiving meal to a bench along the River Seine. Plenty to give thanks for with that scenario!
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One Butterfly Landing … in Paris

November 4, 2015 @ 11:02 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan
Paris moments

A quiet moment in Les Tuileries

In his often-amusing book: Secrets of Successful Fiction, author Robert Newton Peck addresses the business of ‘zeroing in’ by suggesting the budding novelist look through an empty toilet paper roll in a chapter entitled “Look Through a Toot-ta-Do”.  Really, he offers brilliant advice that invites writers to skip the lush, sprawling beauty of the meadow in favor of “… one butterfly landing on one bluet.”

That sage counsel underscores the brilliance of famed French photographer Robert Doisneau, the undisputed master of capturing the mood, the people and the life of Paris. In endless ways, he demonstrated the fatigue of a worker at the bar at day’s end or the capricious joy of children cycling before the Eiffel Tower.

By no means do I compare our photos to Monsieur Doisneau; but when I look back over the many moments we captured on film in Paris, I see one of the world’s most magnificent and appealing cities come to life in small, singular moments.

Meandering through Les Tuileries, we relish the sight of children sailing their boats in the fountain, of a lone woman enjoying silent moments with her book in hand, the quixotic fashion model sipping her coffee ever so carefully in order to preserve her elaborate make-up. And those are just the human touches to the sprawling gardens, statues and backdrops of stunning architecture.

Paris by the Seine

Lone butterfly by the Seine

An afternoon along the Champ de Mars? More of the same without anything being duplicated.  The pigeons pick their way among students enjoying a picnic; a charming young lady seemingly awaits her ‘chariot’ or, rather, awaits a donkey to pull her little cart.  Under every tree, down every path visitors and residents add everyday color to the majesty of the Eiffel Tower that rises above them.

On a somber note, the utter defeat of an old, homeless man stands in shocking contrast to the joyous carousel behind him. Yet, we are uplifted again by the sight of a father and son by the Seine.

Beyond the spectacular sights we discover around every corner of the City of Light, Paris offers abundant moments of humanity. We stop.  We watch.  We pull pieces from our fresh-from-the-bakery baguette, and we find ourselves immersed in this mystique-filled mix of life.  Sitting on a bench by the Seine at dusk, a lone musician pulls out his trumpet beneath the bridge and begins his tune.  He is but one among many unique butterflies landing in Paris.

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Return to Seaside Sète, France

October 15, 2015 @ 11:07 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan
Sete Fr

Magnificent views from Mont Saint-Clair

Sète fits well into our ‘now we’d like to return’ category, another of those places we briefly visited, before bustling on along the beautiful Mediterranean coast. During our adventurous summer of 2005, we drove southeast from Toulouse and crested a hill to the most magnificent sight – the bejeweled Mediterranean in the distance. We dipped down to Agde – yes, another city where we should have lingered – and before we knew it, we were driving along a pure, spectacular beachfront on our way to Sète.

We were in the beginning of our “Discover France” summer, so we had few plans and sometimes too little information; so our time in Sète was limited to floundering around the charming port with its intricate canal network, colorful boats and stunning views. Today I can’t imagine how, but we ended up driving all the way up the singular hill around which the city circles – Mont Saint-Clair. A great accident, in that the views were panoramic!

Languedoc coast

Panoramic views of Sete

Now we understand that this modest city of 40-plus thousand does not represent the glitz and glamour of the Côte d’Azur but stands as a proud working port with abundant fishing and an inimitable, non-touristy charm. Two bodies of water wrap themselves around Sète, like a set of parentheses with the sprawling multi-blue Mediterranean to the front and the brackish Étang de Thau lagoon to the rear. Handily and with an enticing appeal, a network of canals connect the two – quite a rainbow scene with fishing boats painted every color of the spectrum.

Along the magnificent stretch of beach that separates the sea from the lagoon, we stopped to sink our toes in the soft sand and take in the endless expanse of azure waters. Magnificent! Only one couple with their two young children were even close to us – close enough, I might add, for us to notice their European ways with wildly colorful, animal-shaped floats and the entirely unself-conscious act of stripping down to don their suits. Pas de problème!

In fulfilling our “do-over”, I believe we could happily stay at Le Grand Hotel handsomely situated on the main canal and offering the three-star, 19th-century architecture that has long attracted the city’s maritime elite. And if we really wanted an exotic adventure, right out of Sète we could book a ferry to Morocco!

Between Agde and Sete France

The incomparable Mediterranean

Somehow, though, I think we would be quite satisfied to explore the port and canals, not to mention re-visit the magnificent beaches. Perhaps one of the most interesting dollops of history in this town and port established in 1666 is the mandate from Louis XIV that the port be built as an outlet for the Canal du Midi.

Though I’m not among the fish-loving populace, those of you who fit that category will be in heaven! Mussels and oysters and octopus and every conceivable gilled creature comes straight from the port ships and adjacent lagoon to the markets and restaurants along the canal-side quays. I am altogether certain, though, that we will be able to find one of those savory daube beef stews for which the Camargue region is famous.
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Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

Autographed copies with notecard gift