Thursday, January 29, 2015


Recently reviewing old receipts, I picked up this one from my local cheese shop. I stared at it dreaming about the two delicious cheeses I'd bought.

Then I looked closer at the price per unit and was transported from my revery into that hallucinating state of "how much did I spend on cheese?!?"

The prices in parentheses are the amounts in francs, which are always on every receipt, an interesting feature and worthy of a commentary on its own.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Life in Paris: My Name is Luka

When I moved to Paris in 2007 my friends, family and acquaintances all exclaimed at one point or another something to the effect of "how wonderful!" "Life in Paris!" "I've always dreamed of living in Paris!"

And it is. It's a gorgeous city. It's beautiful. The architecture, the buildings, the parks, the restaurants, the cafes, the shops, the museums. It's all wonderful. I've truly adapted to my life in France and have come to love the full experience.

But what many people may not think about when they see pictures of shiny parquet floors, marble fireplaces, double "French-doors" opening out onto iron-work balconies, is that these beautiful old Haussmann buildings are not sound-proof.
In fact, at times it seems as if my walls, floors and ceilings (built in 1857) are all paper thin. For example, I can hear my upstairs neighbor's cell phone vibrate. I can hear pins (or other small-sized items) fall on the floor. Obviously they have no rugs on the floors. I hear them walking everywhere. (In my experience, French people don't take off their shoes and change into slippers when home.) My new upstairs neighbor (the one with the newborn) wears shoes all day long. Her partner rises early for work (5am - 6am), and they coucher tard (go to sleep late). The neighbor before had a toddler who ran everywhere when home from school until about 10:30 PM.

Next door I have a young professional Chinese girl who is usually quiet, until her family comes to visit, all staying with her, and staying up till all hours chatting, for weeks at a time. The only reason why this is an issue is that my bedroom used to be part of her living room. The prior owner of my apartment bought half of his neighbor's living room to create another bedroom for him. What used to be two 1-bedroom apartments on the same floor, are now one 2-bedroom (ours) and one smaller 1-bedroom. You can also see the division because, before, each apartment had two balconies, but now we have three and she just has one. And, because the wall between my living room and bedroom is about 17 inches but is probably only about 4" between my bedroom and her living room. In fact, my headboard is probably literally lined up with her sofa. Unlike typical French families we (my husband, son, and I) all dine and sleep early. With this new setup, I may as well just go park myself on her sofa and try to sleep. It's nearly the same thing.

None of the above situations are impossible to deal with. They are nice enough people; they are simply living their lives and so I don't let it bother me too much.

The one that is hard to live with, however, is my downstairs neighbor. It's ironic that she complains we are too noisy, considering we wear slippers all the time, are in bed by about 8PM - 10PM and wake at a normal hour (7AM) and never have evening guests. But what I will mention, in light of this post, is the heartbreaking fighting that I hear nearly every night. While the baby's crying upstairs, and the next door neighbor is entertaining, this woman is screaming at her 7-year old son. I hear him screaming at her to stop, to shut up. I hear her badgering him over and over and over again. She berets him incessantly until he stops yelling back and just starts crying. I hear thunderous running, banging, crashing and thumping. One time he broke a lamp. We've heard her threats to send him to pension (boarding school isn't viewed the same in France like in England or the USA). Regardless of what's said, I can hear the anger, the hate, the frustration, the pain underneath it all.

I've tried to pray for this woman, her situation, the boy. I've tried to be friendly despite her rude treatment towards us. I've tried to reason with her or defend myself when she attacks me in the hallway. Once, about three years ago, I even called the French protective services for children because I was so alarmed by the violence I heard each night. Nothing has changed. And I fear nothing will.

It's just a reminder that not only in my building in Paris, but in thousands of buildings in this beautiful city, hundreds of thousands around this country, and millions around this world, are stories just like this and even worse. Broken lives in the midst of this fragile world...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bébé : French style

My upstairs neighbor has a new baby. It's her first. And, French style, they are letting this poor creature cry-it-out. I'm familiar with this style of parenting as I was informed of it by French nurses when I had my baby. I'm not a fan of this approach. It's painful to hear a newborn baby crying for an hour when, to me, its needs are simply not being met. :(

About a Boy

I'm reading a book called It's a Boy! by Michael Thompson and Teresa Barker. The book is broken down into chapters by age groups and includes all sorts of information on boys development emotionally, physiologically, socially, educationally, and more. I bought it before my son was born and read through the chapters that relate to his age.

I picked it up a few days ago and opened up to the Chapter titled: "Ready or Not, Here Comes School. Your son, Five to Seven." I started reading with some grim cynicism. Questions on whether or not my boy is ready for school are moot at this point. I did not have my choice (nearly 0.000000001%) on when I put my son into school. I live in France. In France, children go to school at the tender age of THREE! Granted, it's a preschool, of sorts. But in French terms, (by even American terms), it's a serious and very structured situation these children are put into.

Reading this chapter made me sad that I didn't have the option, really, to not put my child in school. My husband is French, I live in French society, this is what is done, what we did. He had a difficult first year. We knew it would be a shock: both his parents worked from home and he was never put into the other big French socialization system (the halte guarderie)(day care) until a year before school. Separation anxiety was a big issue for us.

Plus, being a bilingual little child, his language had not developed before he went to school. In fact, he really didn't speak until about a month before his first year of school ended. This did not go over well with his very old-school, very French, very brute teacher. We've heard from other French parents  that their children also did not bode well necessarily with this particular teacher.

In any case, the point is moot, as I said. Simon has been in school for three years now. I'm happy to report that after this first year he has thoroughly, totally, completely blossomed. He is fully fluent in French (and speaks English when he wants to in English-speaking situations). He is bright, happy, active. And, he is very social, popular with boys and girls. He's turning into a vrai Frenchman--coming home with typical French phrases and mannerisms. All truly adorable to witness!

Heartbreaking NYC "Home Video"

Looking at a post from, I was compelled to watch this video, "Doin' Time in Times Square," by  Charlie Ahern. Filmed from his apartment window in Times Square, it took me about a week to get through it, due to other tasks I had to do, and its disturbing nature.

It's a compelling "view" on NYC life in the 80s and I was struck by a number of things:
- how today we are more or less the same in our violence
- how police don't just "amble" up to "peace disturbers" with the same casualness using just batons (not today's "guns-out-ablazin'" approach)
- and then of course the utter humanity of it: The lost souls. The hurt souls. The pain. The misdirected pain. The abuse of self and others...

I'm still gripped by the poor "boy" who was punched in the face rendering him unconscious... I wonder was he ever revived? Did it change the course of his life immeasurably? Did he turn from the life that took him into the middle of a fist-fight dead center in Times Square? Or did he continue further down a painful path as a result of his pain?

Of course, interspersing these graphic scenes with baby and toddler birthdays and family life, creates the contrast Charlie was going for: the life outside is heart wrenchingly sad.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Get me to the church on time...!

For the past two weeks, going to church felt a bit like a mouse in a maze. For two weeks since the Charlie Hebdo, and subsequent, attacks in Paris, we were met with roadblocks nearly at every turn. Looking at this map (complements of the metro station) gives a clear understanding of why it's probably the most well protected church in France! Not noted on this picture, but also in Sector E are the British and American Embassies and their Ambassador's residence.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Oh Chanel!

Yesterday I was walking down Avenue Montaigne...

Normally I just walk with my head turned sideways, eagerly taking in the latest in high fashion as I pass Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Fendi, Valentino and Ralph Lauren.

This day, though, I could not help but stop and backtrack after I'd whizzed by Chanel. I stopped to look at these remarkable diamond-encrusted watches. I couldn't believe my eyes. I even paused for a moment to actually consider what it would feel like to have one of these resting on my wrist.

In the past I wouldn't stop and gaze at such decadent finery because I knew one of those lovelies would never be in my future. Plus such as my life is, I think my practical side would refuse something like this, opting for a car or something more useful!

I took my time and looked at each one, imagining them on my neck, wrist, fingers... I suppose it was a bit of a Breakfast at Tiffany's opening scene moment...

And then I got to the end of the window, and like a child at Christmastime gazing at department store animated windows, my fantasy broke and I was back out on the street, albeit a very nice and pretty street!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Cold, chalky Paris

I know, I know everyone dreams of living in Paris, and it is a dream in many ways, but there are lots of idiosyncrasies that snap one out of the dream quickly.

Like my super drafty apartment and the exorbitant heating costs.

Or when I take a shower the water is so hard it feels like I'm washing with chalk.

Or a neighbor who, is having some sort of "emergency" and leaves a note this morning announcing they will be shutting off the building's water between 18h00 - 2100 (6pm - 9pm), right when everyone is coming home from work, preparing dinner and washing up for bed. Harrumph! (Thankfully I am home during the day so I have three large buckets as reserve.)

* Endnote: the suspect neighbor just rang to say the water's back on! Grateful for small miracles!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Saint James Inspiration

For Christmas I thought I'd ask my Mother-in-Law for this sweater:

For a number of reasons, I ended up with cash to buy the sweater online. Before buying, I looked more closely at the picture and when I saw the full sweater I realized it was much plainer, and less shapely, than I originally thought.

Upon more closer inspection at the detailing I began to think that I might be able to do something similar, cutting up a mariniere-style shirt. I took out some of my blue-and-white striped shirts and sweaters. Hmmm...nothing quite right. Then I thought about all the fabric swatches I had stored under my bed. I pulled them out and began laying them on an old Saint James sweater that I would use as my base.

This sweater was originally cream-colored but after a few food stains, I tried to dye it navy blue. That project didn't work out -- the sweater turned out a more slate blue. It was the perfect item ready for some "up-cycling!"

Among the scraps I found an old Jessica McClintock lacy shirt that I'd cut up and saved for a future project. I also pulled out all my old buttons and began the process of "which fabric" with "which buttons."

I'd come up with a combination that I was satisfied with and began sewing.

...And I'm happy to report I'm thrilled with the results! My son was very proud of me too...and gave me a big hug and little pat just before he started playing tennis with some soft "snowball" ornaments! Happy sewing and tennis tout le monde!


Friday, January 02, 2015

My kitchen is my nightmare

My kitchen is my nightmare but not in the way you would imagine. I love that I can access nearly anything I need with just an arms reach in my closet-sized space. When I visit family with large kitchens I feel like it's such a waste of energy always having to run back and forth all the while making a recipe. No, it's not the space that annoys me. It's the cold.

Typical old French apartments (and maybe even some modern ones) have a little box cut into the kitchen's exterior-facing wall where they store fruits, vegetables and potatoes. There is a ventilation "frame" cut into the exterior wall, and a little door that opens into the kitchen.

It's called a cellier. I use it occasionally and think it's brilliant. Until Winter comes. When Winter comes this little maison des legumes (vegetable house as I call it) become my nightmare.

The point of this cubby is to keep vegetables cool and fresh. Since there is always air coming in from the outside, and the little door on the kitchen side to access the vegetables is not airtight, there's always a little fresh air coming into the kitchen. And it's not winterized. So cold, icy, Winter air comes into the apartment all Winter long.

Because we live in an old French apartment, with all it's charming polished parquet floors, old marble fireplaces, super high ceilings and double-French doors out onto our balconies, we also have paper-thin walls to our neighbors (another post), and we have a freezing kitchen! 

I try to protect our home by taping plastic over the door, but the tape never sticks very well due to the slippery walls (and cheap tape). I keep the door to the kitchen closed to contain the cold in one room. And I've become a crazy woman reminding everyone to close the doors to every other room to keep the heat inside. But every time I go into my kitchen I freeze.

I guess I could think of it like those thermal baths to help me feel better?!

Here's the "ventilation" in the toilette room and my shoddy-white trash kitchen "fix" (more like a "fail"), complete with the white t-shirt stuffed into the gap between the counter and wall where there's a definite strong breeze. Have to truck all over Paris to find some duck tape!!