Archive for November, 2014

Millau – An Audacious Work of Art

November 28, 2014 @ 1:01 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Millau viaduct – the highest in the world and taller than the Eiffel Tower – © ATOUT FRANCE/R-Cast


In case you believe that Gustave Eiffel’s influence ended with his renowned Eiffel Tower, you are quite mistaken.  As former President Jacques Chirac declared, “’The Millau Viaduct is a magnificent example, in the long and great French tradition, of audacious works of art, a tradition begun at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries by the great Gustave Eiffel.'”

The award-winning and record-setting  “le Viaduc de Millau” opened to traffic on December 16, 2004, to unending praise and interest and, indeed, has swiftly moved into the highest ranks of engineering “wonders of the world.”

Poor Millau.  The little village in the south of France was branded, scowled at for the traffic bottlenecks she presented. For thirty years the A75 auto route, planned as an efficient modern highway, had remained unfinished.  Before the Millau Viaduct, travelers had to cross the River Tarn by a bridge in the town of Millau at the valley bottom.  The town became the “great black spot” of traveling, with miles of congestion and hours of delay during the summer surge of traffic.

Finding the solution was technically demanding, given the area’s violent winds and the challenging geology of the deep Tarn Valley.  After ten years of research, the dual talents of structural engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Norman Foster provided the design solution.  Foster described his project as a “sculpture in the landscape…a dialogue between nature and the man-made.”

Millau Viaduct – © ATOUT FRANCE/Patrice Thébault/Eiffage – Foster and partners

The $523 million project broke three world records:  highest pylons in the world at 725 and 803 feet; highest mast in the world at 1,130 feet; highest road bridge deck in the world – 890 feet.  The project simply defies the imagination of most worldly creatures.

The end result required a delicate marriage of knowledge, courage, talent, teamwork and tenacity – and a measure of good fortune!  The extraordinary construction embraced the latest public works techniques, bringing together multiple technologies – laser technology, GPS, hydraulic rams, climbing formwork, special asphalt and high performance concrete.  At the peak of the project, nearly 600 employees worked toward the successful conclusion of the viaduct.

At last, the viaduct completes the essential final link in the A75-A71 auto route axis from Paris to Spain.  The bridge considerably increases convenience and reduces the cost of travelling to the south.

This area was rural France, ignored by the rest of the country and left alone to its craggy terrain, ancient traditions and Roquefort cheese.  Clearly, the viaduct opened this flower in southwest France to a new era of expanded tourism and economic growth.
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Beaujolais Celebrates the New Harvest

November 27, 2014 @ 10:23 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan
The Latin Quarter in Paris celebrates Beaujolais Nouveau

Balloons on rue Mouffetard in Paris signal the celebration

Who doesn’t love the sound of a popping cork, and the recent celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau; as always, featured just that sound around the world.  The now 30-year-old tradition is basically a bit of a clever marketing ploy celebrating the harvest in general more than the excellence of the wine.

But who can argue with a festive celebration?  While effete wine connoisseurs shy away at home sipping their vintage wines, plenty of folks celebrate the first of the harvest.  From the region of the Gamay grapes that yield Beaujolais to the streets of New York and Paris, revelers take plenty of enjoyment from the annual festivities that take place on the third Thursday of November.  Naturally the timing is dictated by French bureaucratic decree.  The law prohibits the introduction of the light-bodied wine until that date.

This year poor spring weather put a bit of a damper on the harvest, but Beaujolais producers are quick to insist that smaller berries yield more concentrated flavor.  In the Beaujolais region, Lyonnais and Beaujeu residents literally roll out the barrels in the tradition of tasting the young wine.

Wine snobbery aside, with divisive anti-austerity swelling throughout the globe; who can forego a few joyful moments with friends – popping corks, sailing balloons, sipping le vin and reveling in the very existence of the harvest?

Beaujeu revelers in France

Beaujeu revelers in France

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A Royal Dinner in Paris

November 23, 2014 @ 8:37 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Le Soufflé, tucked away on rue Mont Thabor

Our favorite restaurant in Paris is Le Soufflé, tucked away on rue Mont Thabor, just around the corner from The Ritz.  Blink, and you will miss it, as the restaurant appears quite modest from the street.  When you enter, though, it is as if you have arrived in a lovely home with quiet décor and refined tastes, with pleasant colors, paintings and objets d′art.

We enjoyed a most unusual dining experience, during our last Le Soufflé visit.  In a terribly un-cosmopolitan move, we did not make a reservation and arrived early for dinner, by Parisian standards.  We had been shopping for gifts to take home, and decided on a whim to see if we might luck out with a spontaneous seating.  Indeed, the early hour was the only reason they were able to not only accommodate us but tuck us in a wonderful little alcove just to the right of the entrance.  Our locale was perfect – private, romantic and with a view of the whole front room of the restaurant.

Our very personable waiter recommended a lovely dry white wine and took our soufflé, salad and dessert orders.  The menu offers a wonderful array of sweet and savory soufflés, from mushroom, cheese, spinach or asparagus to the Grand Marnier finale – simply a light, flavorful combination.

Grand Marnier Soufflé

By the time a stir buzzed at the restaurant entrance, we were “best friends” with our waiter; who served, chatted and stayed discreetly nearby to attend to our needs.  Suddenly, there was commotion; when a limousine pulled up to the door, and two solemn men entered.  They huddled with the maître’d, and two tables were quickly joined together across from us.  The men disappeared to the back room, returned to the door and ushered in 5 or 6 casually-dressed young ladies.  They were seated at the long table, one in a red baseball cap with her back to the front window.  The two men took a small table to our right, one facing the door (and our table), the other facing the rear.

Our waiter arrived with a lovely soufflé dusted with sugar, and a bottle of Grand Marnier.  He pierced the soufflé and poured just the right amount of liqueur to flavor our dessert.  Then, he leaned in and told us in a hushed voice, that the young lady in the cap was a Saudi princess.  Well, that added a touch of entertainment to our evening, as we watched the festive girls enjoy their meals.  Their trim security guards sipped Coca Cola’s and kept a close eye on us and other guests.  For one who enjoys drama, it was quite fun.

While we can’t guarantee that your visit will be quite as exotic as ours, we do encourage you to make reservations for a warm and savory dining experience at Le Soufflé.  And to top your evening, step around to Place Vendome for a nightcap at The Ritz.

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“ANNE TOURAINE Paris™” Scarf – Magique!

November 22, 2014 @ 1:01 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

I am the proud owner of the world’s most beautiful scarf.  It is French – mais oui!  It is delicate silk with soft, hand-rolled hems. The colors are absolutely perfect with my eyes, my hair, my skin color.

Delicate shades of blue and violet play with equally subtle sea green.  The Eiffel Tower rises through the violet mist with charcoal gray lines and shades of ecru.  Notre Dame takes on a similar look with gray and beige, pale blue tones and lightly-shaded turquoise trees.

This magnificent scarf is “Paris je t’aime” by Anne Touraine Paris™.  I have to believe that my spirit was tucked away inside of Madame Touraine, when she created this elegant design.  “je t’aime” is not my first fine scarf, and now I know it will not be my last.  I’m sure I cannot explain the transformation my écharpe bestows … but I will try.

I don’t want to be too dismissive here.  I live in a world-renowned tourist destination, but the nearby cities somehow think that makes them grown up.  They take on a bit of a smug air, as if cosmopolitan visitors somehow transform them, make them world travelers in their own right.

Simply not so, no more than my seeing a photo of the Eiffel Tower makes me understand and appreciate the bold grandeur of The Iron Lady.  It is only the experience of stepping toward Le Tour, of walking in her sprawling shadows and watching children play in her grassy surrounds that fills me with real understanding.

And that is the effect of my lovely scarf.  It is like a crown around my head, casting a special invitation to see how much the colors emphasize the color of my eyes.  Or resting softly on my shoulder.  Or rolled and entwined ‘just so’ around my neck.  This is no ordinary scarf but an object that whispers beauty and quiet elegance.

When my masterpiece arrived, I was astounded at each step of the unveiling.  Anne’s handsome, understated white and charcoal box and personalized ribbon begged me to be careful in the unwrapping.  Among the tissue folds was “Le Guide” – my own 42-page booklet complete with gorgeous photographs and scarf tying methods.

Under the final fold of crisp, white tissue was “Paris je t’aime” and a small card advising me of special care instructions to keep my scarf beautiful.  As a person with years of marketing and branding experience, I applaud the perfection of details that have gone into designing, producing and presenting Anne Touraine Paris scarves.

Nothing replaces touching the fine silk and seeing the stunning colors.  The experience reminded me of the different outcome of printing a photo on plain paper or on fine photographic paper.  The latter defines and makes possible the imprint of true colors.  And so it is with the scarves.  Photos are remarkably representative of ‘the real thing’ …… yet……….

Paris scarves

Hand-rolled hems and vivid colors – Anne Touraine Paris

I tend to be a casual person – too casual – foregoing the extra accessory that adds the perfect touch to an outfit.  Sometimes “too casual” translates to lazy.  Now, my scarf simply won’t allow this, insisting that I find the right outfit to show her off.

Forgive my indulgence in rambling on, but I have discovered one of many secrets to raising myself up and enjoying simple pleasures in life.  Merveilleux!  By all means wander through Madame Touraine’s lovely website – Anne Touraine Paris to discover her ever-expanding collection of scarves and handsome accessories!

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