Author Archives: harriet.welty

An Iowa winter in Paris

 

An Iowa winter in Paris

I have lived in Paris for more than forty years and cannot remember snow sticking on the ground for more than a few hours, let alone a day. But this morning when I entered the living room (photo above with curtains shut), I felt like I was right back in my native state of Iowa where snow covered the trees, the bushes, the ground, the streets under a big white blanket all winter long.

Although Paris is a northern city, it is unequipped for snow so the sidewalks and roads are dangerously slippery and there are 700 kilometres of traffic jams all around the city as drivers struggle to get into the city to work.

We snuggle up in our apartment, looking outside at our yard, knowing that the bakery and the butcher shop, the newsstand and the metro are only a short walk away.

And of course the snow is not the only that’s falling.  Waves of nostalgia for real winters fall upon my mind as well. Those Iowa winters!  Sledding, skating, snowballs outside, warm fires and fresh baked cookies inside.   Nostalgia is the keyword here: do I really miss those long winters? Those winters that are so pristine and beautiful the first days and then gradually turn to slush and seem (and are) interminable?

Not really.  But how I love this special treat of an Iowa winter in Paris.

Rising sun? No, the rising Seine….

Rising sun? No, the rising Seine….

Rain, rain, go away. Remember that little ditty we used to sing when children? Well, the rain has not gone away over the past month or two in France and the result, while not as spectacular as in June 2016 when the city was on high alert and objects were carted out of the Louvre for protection, is visible.   Yesterday I walked from my high and dry apartment near the Place Gambetta which is “up” a hill in the northeast of Paris “down” to the banks of the Seine to meet a friend for coffee.  Along the way, I – and hundreds of others – contemplated the rushing, rising waters, hoping they would subside soon  – and for the moment that’s what it’s starting to look like.  Who is hurt most by nature’s rebellion?  The tourists are hurt because they can’t board the magic Bateau Mouche to take a tour and feast their eyes on the city’s monuments from the river. The owners of the Bateaux Mouche  are hurt because they lose money every single day their boats can’t navigate.  Owners of restaurants and shops along the Seine are affected when their basement storage areas are flooded. People who are lucky enough to live on houseboats suddenly wonder just how lucky they are…  So here’s to a bit more “rising sun” in this steadily grey Parisian ambiance and a lot less of the “rising Seine”.

Paris notions

Paris notions

What do a gas station and a notions shop, both in Paris, have in common? There are hardly any of them left! On a recent stroll, I saw, and snapped a picture of, a gas station, thinking it would be nice to have a trace of this part of the Parisian scene which is fast becoming a relic. Why?  There are only one hundred or so gas stations in Paris now! On a different walk on a different day, while accompanying a friend who sews and knits (I do neither, unfortunately) to a “mercerie” (French word for notions shop)I took pictures of another fast disappearing “service”.  This particular notions shop was  located inside a charming courtyard on the Francs-Bourgeois in the trendy Marais.  There used to be hundreds of these little stores all over France. In small villages, they were often tended by a lone woman with a cat to keep her company. In them, you find needles and thread, buttons and ribbons and zippers and bolts of material.  The upscale store in the Marais, my friend told me, is one of the few that remain in Paris. You can still find them though.   Should you find yourself in need of pretty French ribbons or bows, here’s a link to the 84 notions shops  in Paris, classified by neighbourhood:  https://www.yelp.fr/search…

Un hamburger, s’il vous plaît and no phone – pas de téléphone!

The other day I was in a Parisian restaurant with a longtime friend. We were having a good time and laughing, notably over the fact that we were eating hamburgers. They’re all the rage now in Paris, but we old-timers who have lived here for more than four decades remember when the French didn’t even know what a hamburger was, let alone make or eat them.

In my first book, French Toast, I describe making a hamburger for my traditional French father-in-law back in the 70s. It was a fun idea, but difficult.  In those olden days, there were no hamburger buns so the village baker consented to make a batch especially for me (after I had shown him a picture).   Neither of my in-laws had ever eaten a hamburger.  My belle-mère was intrigued – and my beau-père was horrified, mainly at the idea that you would eat that huge concoction with all its overlapping layers and sauces with your HANDS.  (As a matter of fact, still today, you see French people daintily eating those monsters with knives and forks).

Well, times have certainly changed in France. And not just hamburgers.  In the past, French people looked at each other while they ate. They had animated conversations – or romantic ones. They looked into each other’s eyes.  Now they are more likely to search their iPhone for their mail. They even (but less than Americans, I would say) take pictures of their food to post on Facebook or one of the other social media sites to show to their “followers”.

Mon Dieu !

We did indeed ask the waiter to take a couple of pictures of us with our hamburgers but I didn’t post them on Facebook on purpose. Why?  After watching people (of all nationalities)  in restaurants who superbly ignore their companion (s) while engaging with their phones, I made the firm decision not to follow their (bad) example.

I have decided to be more “in the moment”.  When I’m dining, in a restaurant, whether with a friend or family member, I want to concentrate on our conversation, on looking around me, on savoring the food, the ambiance.  On being where I am.  I want to de-connect my gadgets and re-connect with the food I’m relishing and the person who is with me.  No phone calls while I dine, no looking at email, no searching on Google.

Et voilà!  Un hamburger sans teléphone!

 

Sunday lunch – le déjeuner de dimanche

Le déjeuner de dimanche

Sunday lunch,  January 7 chez nous –  or “are we really eating all this holiday food again?”. Answer: yes. David, our writer son, and his family couldn’t make it for Christmas so we made up for it  with a late celebration and a sighting of Santa Claus (who made a special trip from the North Pole bearing loads of gifts.)

The picture above is of the  table with no one at it and before it became a total mess. On the menu: foie gras accompanied by Loupiac (sweet white wine, delicious), a tender pork fillet (filet mignon de port) and gratin dauphinois accompanied by a nice bottle of Julienas, a cheese plate with Munster and Reblochon and a galette des Rois.

The fellow in the background is a (formerly painted) wooden 16th century statue of Saint Anthony of Egypt. I remember the first time I saw this saint at my in-law’s apartment in Paris.To say I was intrigued is an understatement.  I don’t know much about saints and didn’t know which St. Anthony it was, and the first thing I learned about him was who he was not.

“Our” saint is not  St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost items.  He was born in Egypt in about 213 A.D., spent his entire life engaged in a struggle with the Devil and was the founder of Christian monasticism. His popularity reached its height in the Middle Ages; the black-robed Order of Hospitallers in Grenoble (France)  were a familiar sight as they went around collecting alms and were known by their bells and their pigs, which were given a special privilege to run free in the streets. You can’t see it in the photo but there is indeed a bell – and a pig at St. Anthony’s feet.

After Philippe’s parents died, we inherited the saint and he has been in our place ever since. I can’t even imagine what it was like when he wasn’t here. One day, though, I decided he looked sad. Then it occurred to me that when he was hanging on the walls of a church people looked at him from below. So I got down on my knees to see what they saw. His expression was totally different – contemplative but certainly not so sad!

Christian Dior, un talent extraordinaire

Christian Dior, un talent extraordinaire

On the windy, sunny last day of 2017 a friend and I attended the Dior retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

It was without a doubt one of the best museum displays I have seen in a long time: informative, complete, well-explained and….magical!

Dior was more than a designer: he was a visionary, an architect, a lover of nature.  His creations,  in the words of Yves Saint Laurent, captured ” post-war insouciance, discreet luxury and stunning beauty.”

As I traveled through the well-appointed exhibition, I found myself gasping at the attention to the cut, the detail, the colour and the combination of conservatism and frivolity.  The creations vary, depending on the designer – first Dior, then Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and currently, Maria Grazia Chiuri.  They imprint their own originality but all adhere to the love of and strict standards of haute couture.

Perhaps they had Dior’s words in mind while designing:    “Respect tradition and dare insolence: you cannot have one without the other.”

The show, which ends January 7 and has attracted more than 6000 visitors a day,  is an appropriate and  stunning tribute to one man’s genius and talent and seven decades of the House of Dior.

A beautiful way to end the year!

The photos show Dior’s “New Look” which scandalized traditionalists after the War, an exuberant red gown I’d kill to have,  a collection of flowered motifs (Dior loved gardens and flowers – as a boy, he compulsively consulted garden catalogues), accessories and details in white, and a bottle of Miss Dior, his first perfume which he launched the same year as his fashion house in 1947. 

Paris Delights

Paris Delights

Now here’s what I love about Paris and why it has a reputation as a romantic city: there are so many pleasurable surprises – even when you’ve lived here as long as I have and that’s a good long time. I knew that master chocolate maker and 9-star chef Alain Ducasse had a chocolate “manufacture” place built on the site of a Renault garage near the Bastille but today I literally stumbled upon it as I took my almost daily walk. This is a place where high quality chocolate is sold but also where it is made. Fascinating! The chocolate, being of extremely high quality, is expensive but you can buy a bar at a reasonable price. I abstained – today. I continued my walk and was amused to see, in front of the top pastry shop Le Nôtre, four giant macaroons. People – including me – were practically pasted to the display windows oohing and aahing over the exquisite desserts and hors d’oeuvres. They say that pastry is an art form and nowhere is that more true than in France where top chefs create desserts that are both wonderful to look at and wonderful to eat, light AND tasty. After an eyeful of chocolate and desserts, I sat down in a café and did what I always do: drink a tiny espresso and watch the people. That’s the delight of Paris.

 

Un Joyeux Noël chez les Rocheforts

Pictures top row: Tiny but pretty Peruvian crèche, our dinner menu, one for each guest with place card.

Pictures bottom row, The Christmas table and Harriet and Philippe posing in front of it.

Christmas Eve chez les Rocheforts. I was in charge of the turkey, wild rice, sweet potatoes, cheese plate etc. Philippe took care of the aperitif, drinks, foie gras, accompanying wines and everything else including making the place cards and the menu. I forgot to suggest that we name the cheeses on the menu but here they are:  a Mont d’Or from the mountainous Jura region, a Soumaintrain (from Burgundy), a Montbrison (a mild blue from Auvergne), a chèvre, a Swiss Emmenthal and for variety, a Shropshire (bleu cheese with a startling yellow colour, from the U.K. ). In case you didn’t know, I have a real passion for cheese and always try to introduce ones that even my French family aren’t acquainted with.

My brother-in-law brought and opened the delicious oysters, the Marseilles family offered us beautiful roses in a rare colour (pale coral-pale pink and the grandchildren pitched in to help me set the table and serve. Santa did not appear this year because the youngest grandchildren – the believers – were elsewhere. We regretted their absence – it’s always such fun to watch my oyster-toting brother-in-law sneak out of the room and return in his Santa suit.  (He’s a man of many talents).  

Right before Christmas, I realised my last year’s Peruvian crèche was on the missing list so I hurriedly crossed town on the metro in search of new figurines which I found at the Boutique d’Amérique Latine. My daughter-in-law brought me some moss to set them in.  A lovely Christmas!

Photo:  A London street with its Christmas decorations.

A Little Pre-Christmas  Jaunt to London 

A recent trip to London with a friend:   I hadn’t been in way too long and had forgotten how easy it is via EuroStar. The weather was cold and snowy, then cold and rainy but that didn’t dampen (literally) our enthusiasm. We feasted on tea and scones (with, of COURSE, clotted cream) at Whittard’s in Covent Garden, checked out the fabulous display of food and drink at Fortnum and Mason (horrendously expensive but you can still find a few reasonably priced gifts), paid our respects to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. I sought refuge from the cold at Westminster Abbey which never ceases to enthrall me. Christmas is a wonderful time to be in London, with all the tastefully decorated Christmas trees and lighted streets. 

For some reason I feel quite English when in England – maybe because my ancestry is more than 80 per cent English. One thing I love when in England is…speaking English!  I don’t have to make the extra effort to speak French and no one asks me “where are you from?” or remarks on my “lovely accent”.  Let me see: what else do I like? I love tea time, I adore English parks, I admire the courtesy of the English and most of all, since I live in Paris, I love the streets of the city which are used ONLY by pedestrians. I am so used to dodging bikes, motorcycles, scooters, Sedgways and other motorised vehicles on Paris sidewalks that ambling without fear and trepidation came as a shock!

As I walked around London, I couldn’t help but wonder how Brexit happened and what will happen now. But that’s another story….

Photo above:  Window display at Fortnum and Mason’s in London

Hackers

To my readers: I am sorry I have not posted since the month of May.  Writing a book, which is what I am engaged in, requires an enormous amount of concentration. (The picture shows me and my manuscript in my favourite café.) I hope to finish my opus soon and start blogging again.  You will automatically receive my posts as usual.

My Joie de Vivre website wages a continuing battle with hackers and spammers. I’ve put up safeguards and hope they’ll continue to work.  If you try to log in to the site and are refused, it’s because from time to time I select certain hours of the day to deny access. Let’s hope this will be a temporary situation.

In the meantime, if you’re on Facebook, you can read my prose and see my photos simply by typing in my name.

Best regards from Paris and hope to be back on the site before long.

 

Harriet