Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Paris calling. . . .come for a walk with me?

 If you've been peeking at my Instagram posts, you'll know that while my flight went well, and I was smoothly processed through Charles De Gaulle (quietest I've ever seen it!), the pre-arranged car ride from the airport to the hotel took over three hours (usually 40 minutes, an hour max.). Still, while I arrived exhausted, an afternoon nap revived me, and I met friends for apéritifs that evening, a sweet start to my visit.

You might also have heard that my carefully planned train trip to Rome to visit my daughter's family (including a very cute little Italian Girl) was canceled due to the strike. Despair set in. Jet lag and bad news don't work well together, and I didn't sleep well at all. By morning, I'd resigned myself and I resolved to make the most of the solo time in Paris, assuming that because Air France flights were reduced as well during this National General Strike, particularly on the days of big organized marches, flying wouldn't work either. Luckily, my hotel had room for me for the extra days, and knowing I had a place to stay, I decided to get out in the sunshine and start enjoying this beautiful city.

To make a long story short (because it's almost 10:30 pm here and I've walked over 12 kilometres today and the jetlag from  a nine-hour time difference doesn't disappear in two days), I came back after lunch restored by the city. Did a bit of research, both online and with the hotel staff, and I've booked a flight for the weekend. Cross your fingers for me that I can get to the airport through whatever traffic there is, that the flight goes ahead as scheduled, and after that, maybe cross them for me once more when it's time for me to get back to Paris, because that's where my return flight home leaves from.  . .

For now, while I'm brushing my teeth and getting ready to fall asleep in a sweet little hotel room in Paris, perhaps you'll like to stroll some streets and gaze at some magical window dressing. . . . I have so many photos to share later as well. Just a few for now, to whet your appetite. . .
I still remember clearly the first time Pater and I saw this sculpture, probably back in 2005. . . . I cherish the familiarity I have with some areas of the city; the memories of what has changed, as well, over the years we've been visiting.

Do check my Instagram feed where I've already posted one video of these animated windows at Le Bon Marché and where I'll be posting more soon. This little fellow was so impressed -- and I would so love to have mine here, watch their faces open wide in astonishment and pleasure.

 These windows in the Paul and Joe store on Rue des Saints-Pères! Such a gift, really. . . .The flowers framing each vignette are painted on the glass. . .
 I enlarged that chair of swans for  you. . . . I mean, really. . .

 I'd love to know more about these cat-dolls, which almost look taxidermied. . . Creepy-cute, right?

 Another vignette, another charmingly costumed cat. . .
I crouched down to get a better shot of this one, so that you'd be able to see the doll or stuffy she carries, confirming my creepy-cute assessment. . . .
 And yours truly, caught in the vignette. . .
 One last window, and then I really have to get to bed. . .







Her coat, right?! That fur collar? Are you dying? We should stop at the next café, order an espresso, and talk about how cute it all was and which dress we want from the collection (or forget the dresses and just order up a few of the kitties, costumes at all).

More soon,
bon nuit,
Frances. . . . from Paris

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Airport Time. . . All Packed. . . Ready for TakeOff

I'm heading to the airport in about ten minutes, but the pieces in the outfit above are not coming with me. . . .

These are. . .

If you're curious about what else is in my suitcase (for which I have no allowance beyond carry-on -- lowest rung of ticket pricing!), watch this space and my Instagram as I land in Paris and see what I can do during this pesky strike situation. . . .

Okay, that's it, then. I'm off. . .

bisous,
f

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Last (June) Day in Paris -- Art, Food, Views. . . .

 The last time we were in Paris, this past spring, the leaves were full and verdant on the trees although the sky was as grey and gloomy as it may well be next week when I land there. . . .

As has often happened with us on a last day in Paris over the years, the mental shift to our return home, the time already spent in the city covering many kilometres, eating many meals, seeing and doing and listening so actively as to court fatigue and more than a hint of ennui. . . . it was not at all that we were bored with Paris but it was hard to imagine or choose the right way to fill our dwindling reserve of hours here meaningfully. And it seemed wrong just to let them lapse. . . Or something like that.
 One such "last day in Paris," perhaps six or eight years ago (I just found the post I wrote at the time -- TEN years ago!), we managed to stumble accidentally into the Musée Zadkine, the sculptor's former home and studio on Rue d'Assas, 'round the corner from the Jardin Luxembourg -- where we had just been delighted to discover -- again, accidentally, serendipitously--the bee hives.

This past June, what shifted our mood was a rather random decision, after walking through the 6th and the 5th along Boulevard Saint Germain, to visit L'Institut du Monde Arabe again (if I'm honest, the mood was probably more mine than his, perhaps because his expectations are often a bit lower -- more realistic? -- than my Paris ideals ;-).

Sadly, the dilating, light-controlling apertures of the Jean Nouvel-designed building no longer work their kaleidoscopic photovoltaic magic, but the mashrabiya's intricately beautiful Arab geometry still delights. (Also sadly, I can find no trace of the many digital photographs I took of the apertures when we were lucky enough to see them in action.)

But there's so much else that nourishes here. The architecture itself, full of symbolism. The art and artifacts, ancient and contemporary, with its history of "the Arab world" seen from and in a French context. I don't know that it acknowledges that context in all its facets as fully as it could, but at least it acknowledges the breadth and depth of the history and culture. Aside: I've just read Alice Zeniter's L'Art de Perdre, a novel about one Algerian family's three generations of experience with, and in, France, from pre-Independence in post-WWII Algeria through to refugee camps in 60s France and right to the contemporary Parisian protagonist trying to understand and integrate her family's alienation from its own history. The novel is rich and nuanced, and it will apparently be available in English next year as The Art of Losing (the novel takes its name from Elizabeth Bishop's eponymous poem). Watch for it!

Because it was our last day, and energy was limited, mood changeable, we kept the visit light and easy, governed by whim.

Still, we could not help but pause, be educated and horrified along the way, as with this powerful 1955 work by Egyptian artist  (1925-1966) Abdelhadi Al Gazzar representing the Denshawai "incident" in British colonial history. a disgustingly disproportionate response to an Egyptian village's objections to British officers using the pigeons the villagers were raising for food as sport in their shooting games.



 I loved this 1977 work by writer and artist Etel Adnan (Lebanon b.1925 ).  Paris Roofs from Jim's Windows.
 Roughly, she is quoted in this interpretive plaque as saying that Among the different types of her painting work, she should mention the "leporellos" artist books that she began to make in the middle of the '60s. They're Japanese notebooks that fold. Made in Kyoto, and she buys them in San Francisco, New York or Paris. The folding paper creates a horizontal format that seems infinite and breaks out of the usual frame of painted work. She's also transcribed here [in the folded pages] poems by Arab writers, without copying the classic calligraphy, to emphasize (show the value of) her  own writing, with its imperfection, which introduces into the work the person who is writing. . .

These are her flowers, below. . .  more recent work, from 2015 when she was 90 years old! (And here is a delightful video recorded when she was 93, speaking of "lightning-strike painting and words as gestures." It's just under five minutes long and quite likely to brighten your day.)
 On the left, Fleurs sur le rebord de ma fenêtre (Flowers on my window ledge). . . on the right, Fleurs devant la montagne (Flowers in front of the mountain)

 Also making good use of the Japanese accordion book is Syrian artist Fadi Yazigi (b. 1966), in a 2011 work called, simply, Figures.

 The interpretive plaque next to his Figures-Couples (2017) quotes from a conversation with Claude Lemand (whose eponymous gallery offers a useful description of this exhibition, Drawings from the Arab World) in which the artist says, of his work on paper: "White pages, your purity moves us. Companions of passing time and of memory. Holders of colours and our joys, of cries and our sorrows, of the crimes of our oppressors. Journal of my sadness, of faces of others and of their gaze (looks, regards). Icon to say my alphabet and their words, my time and their sacrificed time, on what's left of the white of memory." Very rough translation is my own.  . . (French museums and galleries seldom deign to translate, and I respect that decision if sometimes frustrated by it)


We often find that choosing one "special exhibition" within a large and potentially overwhelming institution allows us to focus better, to experience more of less, if you will. We did, all the same, browse (all too quickly) some of the beautiful artifacts and works of art from the larger collection. And I sketched two of these onto circles I'd pre-painted in my watercolour journal.


After which, eyes and mind filled, so many images and thoughts to process, we went up to the rooftop to take advantage of the Institut's wonderful views.




And this fellow had the good idea of treating ourselves to lunch in the elegant Le Ziryab restaurant

with its gorgeous contemporary iterations of dishes from "the Arab world."
Sadly, I failed to note the specifics of each dish, but you can probably appreciate the rich fragrance from the photos. . . .



While we waited for our food, I sketched a quick memory. . . . a single woman, about my age, had just left that table opposite us, right next to the window. I'm thinking I should reserve myself a seat there for next week. . .

After the meal, waiting for my Thé à la menthe to steep, I sketched again. If you crane your neck sideways and can read my scrawl, you'll see that we may have enjoyed a very discreet celebrity sighting while dining. . . .
(I don't think I ever told you that I ate just across from William Hurt and his partner two nights in a row, in two different restaurants, both within a few blocks of my hotel, last fall. As with the possible KST sighting in June, not a ripple of attention disrupted the room. Over the years, visiting Paris, we've walked past Woody Allen as well as Kim Raver, and they, too, seemed comfortably anonymous, blending in as any other pedestrians on the busy streets of St. Germain. . .

So. I said yesterday that I'd post this today, and although I'd hoped that might be 8:30 this morning, I'm nonetheless going to pat myself on the back for getting it done by 8:30 this evening.  And I'm going to thank you for being out there, reading. Because of you, I ended up spending three or four hours revisiting that "last day in Paris" and thinking again about the drawings "from the Arab world," learning more about the artists than I knew at the time of viewing, discovering the wonderful interview with Etel Adnan (whose work I'm determined to learn more about now -- she's my new inspiration! 93 and still working joyously!).

Oh, one more thing before I go: if you have Netflix, you must watch the Cannes Critics' Week Award-winning film I Lost My Body.  The premise sounds odd, unlikely, horrific, but it's beautiful and compelling and sweet and . . . well, also odd. Delightful. Amazing sound track. You can read reviews to find out more (basically, a severed hand travels across Paris in search of its body, and while it does so, it reviews the life of the body/person it was severed from. I know. And yet. . . . it's animated, and the illustrations are worthy of more superlatives, but I'll stop now. Let me know if you've seen it or if you do see it. . . .

Okay, enough already. So much in this post and now I'll love to hear from you. Comments open. . . .

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Hold That Thought -- Paris Blogging and Family Doings. . .

Remember when I mentioned, last post, that we had a busy weekend ahead with visiting family. Well, the weekend was busy, and although it's behind me now, it's going to take me a bit to return to full strength. Or what passes for that these days. . . It was lovely watching the cousins together and so sweet bringing a toddler into our bed in the morning (our last experience with this after so many such mornings over the decades. Bittersweet).  Reading new books to the Four, who insists on having them read three or four times in a row so that she can eventually recite all the words along with you. . . Spreading the art supplies all over the dining table. Watching the grand piano transformed into a Wendy house! Hearing both the Four and the Eleven (11??!!) play their piano pieces. Wonderful all the noise, the crowding 'round the dinner table stretched to its full length on Sunday evening.

But in a 1000 square feet, with four visiting bodies accommodated, all the escape nooks that usually serve to replenish no longer offer respite. And given that I had a week of  waking for several hours 2AM to 4 or 5AM-ish. . . . I'm doddering a bit at the moment.

So the post I began writing this morning, which has already hoovered up 90 minutes of my day, will wait for completion and posting tomorrow. Instead, I offer this glimpse in the form of a page from my travel sketchbook. These images were scribbled in Institut du Monde Arabe on our last day in Paris this past June. I'm including them in a post about that last day -- and thinking about last days of trips, last days in Paris, as I prepare to head there again without that charming fellow who accompanied me last time. I promise you that post will deliver a grand view, some art, delicious food, and a possible celebrity sighting.

I just need a smidgen more time. . .

Okay?

We'll meet here tomorrow? I'm looking forward to it.
xo,
f

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Paris Packing Prep -- What I'm Wearing, These Days. . .

 First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers -- although as far I can gather from Social Media, few of you have time to be reading blogs during the mad prep of your day. The travel, the baking, the roasting, the stirring, the greeting of guests, the settling into guestrooms, the hugging and the chatting with loved ones. . . . Our own Thanksgiving here is much different a holiday, many degrees more low-key.
 As I wrote, though, I know many of you are too busy today to do much reading, if you find time to stop by at all.
 And on this end, we're awaiting the arrival of a Four-And-Three-Quarters and her brother (a One-and-Three-Quarters) who will be visiting with their parents over the weekend, but starting out with a sleep-over without their parents tonight.  . . And we're hosting a Three-Sibling-and-Three-In-Law/Loves-and-Five-Cousins dinner on Sunday. So mad prep is happening here as well. Also, some putting-the-feet-up before the storm. . .
 So it's outfit pictures to the rescue today.  Most of these are photos I've taken over the last couple of weeks as I think about what to bring with me to Paris and Rome next month. I've decided on this tailored wool coat as opposed to the great raincoat I bought last month (hooded, slim-look yet roomy enough for layers underneath, fleece-lined pockets). . . . because I think this looks smarter, overall, and because it gives more warmth for the weight. I'll bring an umbrella, and if it's raining too hard for that to be useful, I'll be in a museum or art gallery or wine bar.

I'm not going to take the pink hoodie you see layered under my coat in the photo above -- for me, a cotton hoodie offers too little warmth for its weight--but I wanted to try out the look after seeing how Sue worked it here (we have the same Uniqlo hoodie -- twins!). I like the layering, and I'm going to try to get out of the house with it in my own neighbourhood, either before I head off next weekend, or perhaps next year (can you believe that 2020 is just around the corner?)
 Summing up from the top, before I go on, the coat is coming, as are the lightweight sneakers. I'l wear the Blundstone boots on the plane -- they're waterproof and the tread is good enough for snow and ice, as long as there's not too much.

I'm debating bringing jeans, but if I do, they'd be the pair you see above. Instead, I'm thinking of my new wool pants from J. Crew (in a Black Watch tartan). I've considered the wide-legged, cropped, knit wool pants you see in the photo above -- they're warm and they're ever so comfortable -- but in the end, I think they're probably too bulky/heavy.

The spruce green merino sweater you can glimpse in the photo below is coming along (I like that scarf with it, but not sure it does enough heavy lifting to make the cut).
 And I'm bringing the slim black felted-wool skirt (from Eileen Fisher). . . which I tried the other day with this silk shirt  (bought a few years ago at & Other Stories in Bordeaux). . .
 I really like this layering, although I'm not sure I will bring this rust-coloured sweater (One of the most versatile pieces I've ever knit, I must say, and I've worn it at least twenty times -- not a pill to be seen!)
 I've tried substituting my grey-navy striped handknit sweater, wearing it over the silk shirt instead of the rust sweater, and for me, it works, although I can see it's a mixed-print too far for some. The striped sweater has already earned its ticket for this trip, so you may see that combo eventually and judge for yourself.
That's it. Time to shower and dress before our crew arrives, and you'll need to get back to your turkey or refreshing your guests' drinks or tending to your online shopping basket (although, may I admit? The notion of Black Friday shopping makes me shudder. Ugh!)

If you do have any more time, I'd love you to read the comments on my last post, the one about apple pie. There are some rich memories there, one laugh-out-loud anecdote, a great recipe from a wonderful Croatian cook, our one-and-only Dotoressa. . . .

And if you're at all interested in volunteering to answer the Proust questionnaire to be posted here -- as A. in London did a few weeks ago, in the interest of nurturing our blogging community here -- please let me know by email (fsproutATgmailDOTcom).

Thanks for reading. If you have time to wave a turkey drumstick in my direction or lift a glass of wine toward me, the comments section is open. . . .Or mental telepathy will have to serve, for now. xo, f

Monday, November 25, 2019

Simple as Pie! A Recipe and Recollections. . .



A few weeks ago, Almost Eleven texted to ask if we could pick her up from school the next day. I texted back "Of course. Want to stay for dinner?" And she flashed back "Yes, please!" So Granddad made roast chicken with pasta and homemade pesto, oven-roasted cauliflower, a simple salad, all the girl's favourites. Such a meal deserved the dessert she goes all fangirl over: apple pie! So I added "lard" and "5 Granny Smith apples" to his grocery list, and made room on my day's to-do list for "Make pastry and an apple pie."

May I say, as modestly as possible, that I've garnered ample appreciation for my pies through the decades.  Mostly blackberry pies for all the years we had a patch growing wild on the edges of our property. Lemon meringue very occasionally. Apple pie a few times a year, and now with our own little apple harvest, a fall tradition in the making. . . .and the tourtières at Christmas. With Paul doing more and more of the cooking in his retirement (he tried, once, to move into pie-making territory, and there was a minor marital crisis you can read about here. Never let it be said that I can't be petty;-) ,I'm glad to have something I can contribute to the feasts, and my gang always gives me their enthusiastic thumbs-up. And more importantly, their empty plates, with requests for a second helping.

But I don't think anyone loves my apple pie as much as Oldest Granddaughter. So when Paul raised an eyebrow at the addition to his grocery list -- "Really? Isn't that a lot of work? I think she'd be happy with a few cookies," I sent him off with the assurance that the work was well worth it.

And it was. Her delight filled the kitchen (noisily!) when she saw the pie on the counter, and even after roast chicken and a second helping of pasta (she loves pesto!), she managed to eat two slices.

I should have snapped a photo of the pie before we broke into it, but even then, it wasn't especially  photogenic. . . Occasionally, I'll make apple and leaf shapes from leftover pastry to decorate the top of my pies, but ornamentation is not my forte. Moreover, my pastry is a very short pastry -- I'm told regularly that it's very tender, melt-in-the-mouth, flaky, etc., etc., which is what we like about it. But it does not lend itself to much manipulation. I'd have a very tough (ha! see, that's the problem!) time weaving it artistically as in the photo below.

In fact, a year or so ago we invited a new friend over for dinner, someone Pater had worked with in a volunteer capacity, someone with major chops in the culinary department. Cooked professionally and had invited us to a couple of very impressive, multi-course meals. We pushed aside any intimidation we felt, wanting to reciprocate his hospitality, and decided we'd go with well-honed "specialties of the house." I can't remember the appetizer, but Pater made his wonderful paella, and I made an apple pie.

Now, you might begin to doubt the quality of my pie, and the level of my defensiveness when I describe our guest's response. Personally, I suspect some gender politics at work, but the upshot is that while Paul got copious praise through the meal, my pie got me the equivalent of a pat on the head followed by a short lesson on how I could make the pastry less short so that it could be more robust, so that it wouldn't flake and crumble so messily.  I made sure I looked interested and not defensive and oh so, you know, grateful for the advice. But.

It took me down, and the family didn't get pies for a while. They have pretty clear and honest voices, though, and they persisted. Apparently, in our family, tender and flaky is the most important attribute in a pie crust, and one and all denounced guests who feel they need to give tips for improvement of the meal. So I deferred to the majority opinion and have happily been throwing together pies ever since.

And something about that not especially photogenic pie apparently appealed to Annie, who commented on Instagram that she'd like the recipe. Whereupon I decided that she might not be the only one, that perhaps I might get a blogpost out of my apple pie.

So here goes. Pretty straightforward, really. I've been using the recipe for Perfect Pastry from the back of the Tenderflake lard box for decades now, and if there's any "trick" at all, it's in not using any more of the liquid than you have to use for the dough to cohere.
For a vegan version, I've also used this recipe which used to be found on the Fluffo shortening box, or this one, from Crisco (and because these recipes only make two crusts, they're easier to pull together), but there's no question your crust will be more flavourful if made from lard. And I think that the vinegar and egg in the liquid of the Tenderflake recipe makes a difference in final quality (texture), but not huge.

The biggest trick -- and this is what I learned from my dad, way, way, way back when -- is NOT to overwork the dough (he made the best sausage rolls with the flakiest pastry!). Once you've added the liquid, work as quickly and confidently as you can to gather the dough together into a ball, and once you've got it to that stage, let it be!

Another trick I've used for decades is a "secret" Pater learned from a co-worker one summer when they shared living quarters and kitchen duties after a day in the boat collecting data about fish and fisheries. The fellow (who Paul admitted did more than the lion's share of cooking for the crew) rolled his pastry dough (I'd love to have met this guy -- I mean! he made pies after a day working in the bush or on the boat, and with pretty minimal culinary equipment) between two sheets of wax paper so that it didn't stick. When my sister phoned a few weeks ago to ask for pie-making tips, I passed this along, but of course, being much more up-to-date then I (she's almost a decade younger ;-), she'd bought a silicone sleeve to serve the same purpose. . .

Oh, and I treated myself to a marble rolling pin a few years ago; I think that helps by keeping the dough cooler (less sticky) and also because the additional weight means fewer rolling strokes are needed, hence less handling.

Because really, if there's any single trick, it's the one my dad insisted on: don't overwork the dough!

And if you need any more proof that my pie-making stretches back over decades, it's on these pages of my Joy of Cooking cookbook, an edition that I've had since '72 or '73, which means it's. . . ancient.  Well-worn. A bit disgusting, if we're being honest, stained with wayward ingredients from many dishes over the years (you should see the Yorkshire pudding page! or the one for Peanut Butter cookies!)
I use Granny Smith apples, if possible (and I've tried the half apple and half green tomatoes as well, when the latter aren't likely to ripen on the vine in time).
I often sprinkle the top with the sugar and cinnamon, and I generally do brush it first with milk. Not sure if that step makes much difference. And I like to make the pie without an upper crust as well, cutting calories and making it a bit healthier. I've never sprinkled the grated cheese on top, but I do like a small piece of cheddar alongside. I hear my dad, "Apple pie without some cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze" . . .
Remembering a history of pie-eating that stretches over more than six decades, a personal history of pie-making that's half a century long . . . . it's surprising and comforting, odd and a bit daunting all at once. It's a history that's become outmoded as I've lived it. Yes, my family still loves the pies I serve for special dinners, and even when I make them on weekdays, they're happily and readily consumed. But lard . . . . Gluten. . . .The sheer calorie load of a piece of pie. . . These all belong to the days when many of us expended more physical energy in the normal course of our day and when lard (a resource it would have been nigh sinful to waste) and some sugar turned the harvest's fruit into a sustaining fuel as well as brightening lives with simple pleasures. There's another post -- an entire essay! -- there somewhere, but it's Monday morning and many of these words have been impatiently waiting to meet you for days already. . .
So I won't tell you now about ways the tradition is being adapted by my son-in-law, a skilled bread baker who's been playing with different flours to make his own version of a tasty and tender pie crust. Except to say that he brought a delicious pumpkin pie to our Canadian Thanksgiving feast at my daughter's, and I think the future is in good hands.

In the meantime, I have a few pies left in me . . . and a few willing to take forks to them. . .

What about you? Do you make pies? Any secrets? And favourite recipes? I know my American readers will be busy this week getting ready for your Thanksgiving feast this Thursday. Apple pie on any tables? Or do you stick with pumpkin? And one last question: what early or significant memories does pie evoke for you?

Oh, and Happy Monday! And all you American readers, remember to Breathe! as you work your way through those long lists to get your tables ready for Thursday. . . .  Take Care. . . .


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