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Monday, January 31, 2011

Classic photos and music

While working on yesterday's story, I came across these classic photographs by Robert Doisneau - accompanied by more accordion music. It captures the flavor of a Paris lost in time.

Accordion music

Odette called me up last week and asked if I'd like to join her on Saturday night for an accordion concert at a small bar near the Canal St. Martin where the audience is encouraged to sing along with the music. Saturday night? Sure, I have no plans. (I grumble under my breath - anything's better than spending another weekend alone . . . (

I'm ready to try anything - and am delighted to find that it really is fun to sing along with the accordion group called "Les Tigresses Diatoniques".

They pass out the words to each song and I am surprised at how everyone seems to know the music. The classic tunes are from Brassens, Brel, Piaf, etc. OK, there aren't any 18 year olds in here - but the age range is much larger than I would have expected. Here we are singing "Padam" made famous by Edith Piaf.

I learned something, too. The "diatonic" accordion has only buttons, and NOT piano keys. I never noticed before.

On Sunday, I went back to the rue Mouffetard where they feature accordion music, sing-alongs and dancing in the street every Sunday from ~12 to ~2pm.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Friday is market day on my street and it's a busy day for our local mendicant population. Petra is at his post in front of the G20 supermarket where I usually buy milk and cereal. I'm not normally very generous but there's something about the way that this fellow makes eye contact, clutching a photo of his wife and eight children in his left hand, his right hand cupped in supplication - dipping his head and stretching out his hand as each potential donor passes by.

Once, during the holidays, I gave him a two euro coin, and was rewarded with a blessing for my entire family as he pointed to the sky beaming and gesturing. "Dio bene toda sua familia." Spanish? Italian? What language is he speaking? It doesn't sound like French.

I have a homework assignment for my photography class and after placing a coin in his palm, I ask permission to take his photograph. He's clearly delighted. He stands tall, holds his photograph proudly in front of him and puts on his most distinguished face.

I was hoping to capture that disarming smile of his or the blessing I'd received before. But no, photographs are a proud and serious business. I try to get him to relax by engaging him in conversation. I ask about the family in the photograph. "Si, mi familia" he manages to convey - but I can see we have a serious language obstacle. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his identity card. He proudly shows me his name "Petra" and I can see that he is from Romania. No wonder we have a language barrier.

I returned this morning with a copy of the photo that I've taken. He's sitting down today, and when he sees the photo he's delighted. He immediately takes off his hat and asks me to take more photos. He also offers his hand. I shake his hand and in a gallant gesture he kisses the back of my hand and offers another blessing as he points to the sky.

I leave him holding his new photograph. What have I started?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Eiffel Tower

Rule number 1 in my writing and photography class is "no trite clichés", in other words, try to find a unique subject or at least a unique angle. Well my friends, here's yet another picture of the most photographed subject in Paris. But I just can't help it. . . . I walked out the door of the library yesterday evening and she took my breath away.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Student days

I am currently enrolled in several writing courses and one photography class here in Paris. It gives structure to my days and pushes me to explore and expand my limits as I learn from teachers younger and more accomplished than myself. I enjoy my homework assignments although I am suddenly self conscious about what I write and the pictures that I take. As a former teacher and coach, I am also aware of the importance of good teaching styles - how to combine the best qualities of knowledge, experience, preparation, and organization while adapting to the unique composition of each group of students.

I'm not sure where these classes and this adventure will lead, but I am enjoying the ride and will be reporting on my progress. Thanks for accompanying me on this ride. Perhaps one day I'll be a teacher again?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Another side of Paris

Paris is more than elegant shops and beautiful monuments

Saturday, January 22, 2011

One Year to a Writing Life

Charlie sent me books for Christmas - an unbroken tradition that goes back as long as I can remember. Despite the fact that we aren't together any more, despite our second divorce in 2008, he still knows me better than anyone else on the planet. And he knows that books make me happy. He said it was hard this year, having no idea which books I already have, which ones I've already read.

The box from Charlie arrived shortly before Christmas. I ripped open the packaging and squealed with pleasure when I saw that he'd sent me "One Year to a Writing Life" by Susan Tiberghien. How did he know? I'd already noted the 19th of January on the calendar - the date when Susan Tiberghien would be at the American Library in Paris to talk about her book. I hadn't bought the book yet, but intended to. Here is Susan (on the left) during her presentation at the American Library.

"One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer's Art and Craft" offers both inspiration and instruction with examples and exercises touching on writing that ranges from journal writing and personal essays, to fiction, poetic prose, and memoir. The book has an excellent bibliography as well as dozens of practical suggestions for the aspiring writer.

I was especially attracted to book because, in addition to the exercises in the book, I found Susan's personal story inspiring as well. An American woman married to a Frenchman, she didn't start writing until the age of 50 - after raising six children in France, Italy, and Switzerland. Her first book was published at 60. So there's hope for those of us who got a late start!

I also signed up for Susan's workshop at Shakespeare and Co. on Saturday afternoon. The afternoon was well spent - not only because of the writing exercises, but also because I met other women who are interested in creating an ongoing writing group here in Paris. Susan proved to be a warm and generous teacher. Here she is (on the right) answering a question during a break

And with her husband of 50+ years, Pierre

You can see from her website that Susan has a full schedule of teaching and speaking events. I hope to travel to Geneva to participate in future sessions of her Geneva Writer's Group. In the meantime, I have work to do if I want to consider myself a writer!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Words and Images

I'm currently signed up for some writing classes and am working on a couple of stories that are not quite ready for prime time. So as I smooth out the rough edges in my writing, I thought I'd share a few more photos from this week.

The weather last Sunday really was exceptional, and after Notre Dame in the morning, I went to the Louvre in the afternoon.

By the way, I've been in Paris for about 10 months now, but still haven't been inside the Louvre - yet.

This is the Arc du Carrousel which marks the entrance to the Tuileries Garden from the Louvre

The Tuileries Garden was packed on a sunny Sunday afternoon. You can see the Grande Roue (large ferris wheel) at the other end. There is an uninterrupted line between the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde with its Obélisque, then the Champs Élysées crowned by the Arc de Triomphe.

Place de la Concorde with Grande Roue and Obélisque

Finally, continuing the straight line from the Arc de Triomphe west to the modern skyscrapers which make up La Défense, you have La Grande Arche

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Staying in touch

Surprise! Andrea popped up in Paris this week. We've stayed in touch, spending hours talking via Skype when he called my computer from Barcelona or from Milan over the holidays. I was surprised when my cell phone rang on Monday, showing Andrea as the caller. Where are you? I asked, surprised that he was calling my phone rather than my computer. "I'm at Châtelet, here in Paris. Are you busy?" I was just finishing an email response to Dominique and the gray day suddenly brightened. We agreed to meet at the Odeon metro station. By the way, here's a picture of Andrea:

No, it's not a romance - we really are at different stages in our lives - but we have a unique connection and I am happy to provide a sounding board as he sorts through a myriad of options in his personal and professional life. I enjoy our conversations and our rare meetings.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Back to the drawing board

I received an email from Dominique on Monday morning - effectively ending our nascent relationship. I think we both knew a few weeks ago that it wasn't going to work out - but neither of us had articulated this decision - until now. He finally had the courage to spell it out - gently, delicately, and beautifully written.

I wonder why I couldn't do it first? I've known it for a long time, but had a hard time acknowledging the fact, trying to hold on. Why? Is it my Taurus nature - stubborn, tenacious? Or my persistent optimism - things will work out? Or a reluctance to cause pain? Perhaps it's a cultural tendency - expecting the guy to take the first step to begin (or end) a relationship? Maybe it is the constant tug of war between my Libra South Node and my Aries North Node? Maybe it's all of these?

And so if I go back to the drawing board and list the things I am looking for in a partner or in a relationship - what would that list include?
1. He must be a healthy non-smoker.
2. I'd like him to be articulate and fluent in more than one language.
3. He would be well traveled, interesting, and open minded.
4. He must be reliable - always following through on his promises.
5. He must be unmarried - never married, widowed, or divorced is OK. Married or separated - not OK.
6. He would like some of the same things I do: travel, food, Paris, hiking in the mountains, reading, cinema, art, etc
7. He would be self sufficient. A good cook would be a great bonus.
8. A sense of humor would be appreciated
9. He would have a full life but plenty of free time for me
10. He would live in Paris but be ready and willing to spend time in the U.S.
11. He would find me beautiful and desirable and sexy - even with short gray hair and glasses
12. He would be devoted to me and respect my intelligence, my feelings, and my autonomy
13. He would be affectionate and we'd have terrific chemistry
14. He would be willing to commit to fidelity once we got to that stage

Hmmm, what else?

Or maybe I should just forget looking for a companion, and simply enjoy my freedom, my autonomy and my charmed life? After all, it's nice to have the time to write, to travel, and to look inward to rediscover myself.

But then again, it would be nice to have a dinner date or a hug once in a while . . .


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Another Sunny Sunday

With a promising weather report, I woke up early this morning determined to climb the 380 steps to the top of Notre Dame cathedral. It was worth it! All of the photos below were taken by yours truly with my pocket-sized camera.

This guy is called a stryga - he is one of the members of the Chimera Gallery.

Do you recognize the Centre Pompidou?

Here's another of the chimera

Taking a bite out of the Eglise St. Germain?

The visit also includes the south bell tower where you can see the cathedral's largest bell which weighs 13 tons. This bell is rung only on major Catholic feast days, whereas the four bells in the north tower ring out several times a day.

I was almost dizzy after winding down all those stairs

But still managed to capture a couple of other postcard images

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ice skaters

Friday morning started out sunny and I decided to climb to the top of Notre Dame to check out the gargoyles. However, there was a long queue, I had no book to read while waiting, and then the sky turned cloudy and a cold wind picked up. I decided to come back another day.

I walked past the Hôtel de Ville on my way to catch the bus home. Today there were far fewer skaters than the first time I passed this spot.

While watching the skaters, I thought of Elizabeth - a multitalented Boulder woman, gifted ice skater, and mother of two sons, both of whose births I attended. She could use a vacation. And I imagined her here in Paris, oblivious to the cold, gliding across the ice in a long, slow, arabesque.

To read about Elizabeth and her sons you can check out her blog.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Philippe's birthday

No, not my son Philippe, my friend Philippe Lefebvre. His birthday is very close to the Epiphany and his traditional birthday cake has always been the seasonal galette des rois. We sang Happy Birthday (in English) and Philippe blew out the candles

I mentioned in a previous post that each galette contains a "fève". Paolo and Melissa were the lucky winners this time. Here's a regal looking Melissa

And brother Paolo

I've known Philippe and his twin brother Bruno since they were ten years old and too young to join us for English-speaking dinners hosted by parents Odette and Pierre. Following our return to the U.S. we hosted visits from various members of the Lefebvre extended family. A couple of these visits included a trip to the Grand Canyon. Our French visitors have always been surprised to learn that 1. the Grand Canyon in NOT located in Colorado and 2. It takes a long time to drive there, but it is definitely worth the trip!

Now that I've returned to Paris, I've enjoyed becoming a part of the Lefebvre family again - watching the grandchildren grow up, enjoying family dinners and visits to the French countryside. It's through these touchstones of family tradition that I think of my own family and I feel less alone.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Soldes is the French word for "sales" or clearance sales. I was surprised to see that there were no clearance sales starting the day after Christmas. I was even more surprised to learn that "Soldes" are regulated by a law that dictates that there can be only two clearance sales per year - once in the summer, starting on the third Wednesday of June, and the winter sale which starts on the second Wednesday of January. Not one day sooner! Soldes are also limited by law to last only five weeks - and not one day longer! This year that means January 12-February 15th. The law applies to every store in the country* - from the small neighborhood stores on my street

to the largest department stores.

Needless to say, the big department stores were packed - but I was amazed to see people standing in line in the Galeries Lafayette for hours for the privilege of buying Gucci shoes at a discount

Or nearby Prada shoes

More affluent shoppers hit the stores on the Avenue Montaigne where there were no garish posters, but sales nonetheless

No matter that today was gray and rainy - the shoppers were out en masse . . .

I could use a new pair of shoes. But I don't particularly like to shop and I hate fighting the crowds. So instead of trying on shoes, I just took a few more photos .

*Stores which are near France's borders can begin their Soldes a week sooner - in order to compete with neighboring countries. Can you imagine the U.S. government dictating sales dates to Macy's or Nordstrom??

p.s. These sales dates apply to online sales too!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sunny Sunday

Blue sky in Paris. What a treat! I just had to go out and enjoy the rare winter sunshine. Here are a few of my favorites - found within walking distance of my apartment.

Statue of Liberty replica on the Ile des Cygnes

Tilting at the tower?

Hey Santa, get down from there!

I pinch myself each day I look up and see the Eiffel Tower - am I dreaming this life?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Another week, another trip to the Cabane

This week I invited Odette, her daughter Dominique, and her daughter-in-law, Nathalie to join me for oysters at the Cabane a Huitres.

We went for lunch on Saturday. Fewer people at lunch, more time to visit. It was the second visit for Odette, the first for Dominique and Nathalie.

Here is Francis explaining to Dominique and Odette.

Nathalie and Dominique

And me? I was behind the camera :-)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Centre Pompidou

I never run out of things to do in Paris. This week I decided to check out the Mondrian exhibit at the Centre Pompidou Museum of Modern Art. The Mondrian/De Stijl exhibit provided an excellent retrospective of Piet Mondrian's work, showing much more that just the abstract lines and primary colors that are his signature.

Along with the Mondrian exhibit, I also discovered the works of Arman. I'd never heard of him. And while I didn't appreciate his "garbage" pieces, I did enjoy many of the other constructions exhibited here. Check out his website.

I had coffee in the restaurant on the top floor of the museum. It offers stunning views of the city and its decor matches the theme of the museum.

Too bad it was gray and rainy - the views weren't very stunning . . .

And on the way back to the metro - the juxtaposition of avant garde with the traditional as seen in the nearby St. Eustache.