I want everything Nathalie Choux makes. Is that too much to ask?
Let me tell you what writing a novel feels like to me.
It feels like spending years baking a cake of torture and bliss, iced with insecurity, with a red cherry of self-aggrandizement on top. And once the cake is baked, this depository of all your hopes, dreams, and hard work, you will put it out there for all to taste. You'll be excited and terrified and your heart will beat 1000 beats per seconds. People, tens of thousands of them, will taste it.
And they'll say, 'meh'.
Or they'll say, 'sorry too sweet'. They'll say, 'I like pink icing better'. Some will say 'this is terrible awful very bad writing.' (ahem I mean cake-making, but I ran out of baking powder for my imagery) or they'll say 'I cannot believe publishers thought this fit to print' (newsflash, they didn't.)
You know this as you make your cake but by now you're knee high in batter. There is batter everywhere in fact, clogging your pores, coming out of your eye sockets, clouding your jugment and turning you into a bad friend, mediocre mother and absentee wife. It is your reality and it feels far more real than anything in the world around you.
But some will take the time to write a review, or send a sweet email and say, 'your cake changed my life'.
These are the people you bake for.
Remember Ukryci w Paryżu? I wanted to share with you that surreal moment when you receive a box from your Polish Publisher and you find this in it!
Better than Christmas morning
My mother taught me it wasn't polite to gloat. Sorry mom. The book is absolutely gorgeous, so well-crafted with a hard back that's heavy and silky to the touch and all around awesome. I can't stop turning the pages and admiring it :) Pascal, the publisher, chose to include the recipes and pictures in the back and frankly, it's genius. It makes for a thick, gorgeous book that I am very, very proud of!
An amazing thing happened in 2013. I got myself a fairy godmother. Or in this case a fairy god-sister. Renata, an amazing French-Polish woman I am proud to call my agent worked her magic, selling the international rights to Hidden in Paris in many European countries including Poland, Italy, Germany and Bulgaria, with more on the way. I'm thrilled that my novel (and in some editions the recipes in the novels as well) will be translated to so many languages.
Here is the gorgeous cover of the Polish edition:
Hidden in Paris, in case you didn’t already know, is Ukryci w Paryżu. And it sounds even better in Polish. Here is what it sounds like, just click on the sound icon.
And here is the link to Pascal, the publisher’s website:
Imagine what it’s like to see your book published in another language, with on the cover a title you can neither read or pronounce. It's really quite surreal. I’m thrilled, I'm proud, I’m thankful, and I’m excited for the future!
Here is a little hello to my Polish readers (thank you Google Translate)
Dziękuję wszystkim moim polskim czytelnikom. Jestem bardziej niż szczęśliwy, że moja powieść będzie czytać w swoim pięknym języku i opublikowane w pięknym kraju. Mam nadzieję, że kochasz ukryty w Paryżu!
I was thinking the other day how the holiday season hits me and my fellow French expatriates hard. That's because December in France is just the most wonderful, magical time. The decoration, the lights, the spirit, the amazing food... not to mention our families. Sigh...
Okay so this is it: French Christmas Spirit, Special Nostalgia Edition. For gorgeous pictures check out all the links. If you care about none of this and just want to win a copy of Hidden in Paris, skip to the end.
Carol Guilliot of Paris Breakfast has a wonderful article on Marron Glacés. Why can't they sell this in the US? I bet if Trader Joe's started to make them they'd be a stampede (with me at the bottom of the pile of bodies). Marrons Glacés are basically comfit chestnut. They are A-ma-zing. Like nothing you've ever eaten. I miss them so much...
From chestnut to chocolate, the Girls Guide to Paris has a well-written article on Paris and Chocolate. It's true that throughout France Christmas time means chocolate. Chocolate making is an art form and people give precious chocolate as gifts, and they are as prized as perfume. Who needs Chanel Number 5, all I want is eau de chocolat and a spray bottle.
Now that I'm trying my hands at veganism (going into my 3rd month --one day I should write about it. It's kind of nutty. As if my life wasn't complicated enough...), I read everything related to vegetarianism/veganism. Basically I'm looking for recipes that don't taste like a slice of cardboard with punishment in top. I could never do this in France I told myself. Not true, apparently. Bonjour Paris has an article about someone who is hard at work being a vegetarian in France, and ironically in Gascogne, the area of France known for food, foie gras and finding ways to turn every part of the pig into something you can stuff into your mouth.
And now, les champignons. If it wasn't for mushrooms this vegan thing of mine would honestly never work. The Best of Paris gives you great addresses to find wild mushrooms in Paris.
But one cannot live on Paris and food alone. You also need love. This is such a great article in HiP Paris about romantic places to take your sweetheart in Paris. If you don't have a special someone I think this article will inspire you to run to Paris and get yourself one.
Because you cannot live on food and love alone, you also need books, someone at Colleen's Paris wrote this fantastic article on Paris for lovers of literature: favorite cafés and hotels of authors past and present, book stores, and even writing workshops. This made me drool almost as much as the thought of marron glacés.
Yeah this is all very nice, you think, and now that you've made us ache for Paris, do you have any idea how to finance that trip? How about this article in International Living on how to get paid to take pictures of Paris?
The final word if you weren't convinced already, Prete moi Paris tells you why you should visit Paris in December. Paris in December is magical, special and all around delicious.
All this holiday spirit made me think I should create a giveaway for my novel Hidden in Paris. By leaving a comment below for the next ten days you are automatically entering the giveaway. (just make sure I can get in contact with you if you win) I will ask my cat dusty (or my kid) to draw a name and will mail you a signed copy of Hidden in Paris in time for Christmas.
There is that fantasy of me, with paint brushes, cranking up one painting after another. But if I'm going to be honest with mysef paint is too messy, and hard, and I'm really more comfortable with a keyboard.
No, really it's not that I want to paint. It's that I want to own paintings but can't afford them.
But once in a while I find a painter that makes it look so deceptively simple and impromptu that I start looking at my paintbrushes. But I'm older and wiser and I say... nah.
Here is a post about artisit Laura Jones in the blog the house that lars built. You can read all about her there and visit her studio). Here are some of her bouquets. They're so full of unrestrained fun. Love them all!
I wanted to share this because I find those photographs so beautiful. This is the work of photographer lili rose.
May you have a beautiful, safe week end.If possible away from typhoons, tornadoes and all the other scary things in this nutty world.
I’m missing Paris today something awful.
Periodically I get that wave of nostalgia that can only be fixed by booking a one way ticket to France. This morning I was minding my own business, procrastinating on my work --by clicking away on Pinterest with the fervor of a lab rat looking for the button that will release that cube of cheese. you know the feeling --when I realized that one of the pictures I had posted was NOT A PHOTOGRAPH, but a masterful watercolors by the artist Thierry Duval. I looked for his website, and pang! I was back in Paris. He truly captured something for me that all the pictures I collect gloutonnement on my Paris pinterest page fail to express.
As I admired the watercolors I was back in Paris in my mind and heart. It was July I think, on a hot summer evening and I was with my family, my husband and two boys. We had just picked up some crêpes au sarrasin from a street vendor and eaten them as we sat on a public bench. Then we went on a stroll along the quays and every building along the Seine was lit up. The water shimmered. Lovers walked hand in hand. It was magical. My kids were as happy as if they had been at an amusement park. The excitement was palpable for them too. That night, they 'got it'. They were hooked on Paris too. Permanently.
Hot summer evenings in Paris are rare, but when they come the entire city is overtaken, drunk with the pleasure of simply being there. The warmth of the night on bare skin, the feeling that you are part of something so old and yet so modern, the idea that you can walk for hours across Paris and everywhere it will be alive and vibrant is something unique to Paris, I think. Only in Paris do I feel so thoroughly alive.
In Paris more than anywhere I have been there is the promise as you walk that a discovery is just ahead and it pushes you forward. So you walk some more, and there it is, the next sight, the next marvel. But you have to be there. No picture can do it justice. You have to experience it with all your senses.
Paris, I'll be back I promise. I bet you missed me too. Right?
Here is Thierry Duval's website. There are many more paintings there, one more amazing than the next.
P.S. Oh great this is an hour later. I guess there will be no productivity today. Paris ate my homework
I was just looking through the many pictures I took the last time I was in Paris and I wondered if there is a lot of blue in Paris or if my lens was attracted to it.
How charming is this? A single, beautiful greenhouse painted blue in the middle of the square des batignoles, and in the center a single orange tree on display like a rare work of art.
I took this picture on a rainy day in one of the pretty ruelles (petite rues) near Oberkampf. The pedestrian street was teeming with artist studios. It felt so far away from the city and yet was smack dab in the heart of it.
A beautiful gate painted blue and the mauve of a Lilac bush. You know how to say Lilac in French? Lila, pronounce. (leelah)
I think there is a name for this traditional blue. If you know tell me I can't seem to find it on google. I wonder who lives behind those gates. I think it was some kind of embassy or something. In Paris you can't turn your head without being dazzled by beauty. Sometime it's because you see something grand...
And some time because of a humble petite fenêtre.
Speaking of imposing blue. Here is one Paris' most famous restaurant, La Tour d'Argent.
Argent in French can mean silver or can mean money. I think in this case it might means both. An appetizer of snails and asparagus (Escargots des Murailles et asperges, sauce Meurette) for 79 euros. The filet de boeuf aux herbes fraîches, pommes de terre croustillantes (steak and fries, basically) is 89 Euros. And for dessert? How about the soufflé caramel, fruits exotiques au jus de citronnelle 26 euros. That's before the wine and you'll need a lot of it to numb you for the addition. But look on the website, the view of Notre Dame is breathtaking.
I'm staring the year with rose-colored glasses firmly planted on my somewhat mishapped nose (note to self, stop obsessing about nose. Nose is fine, Nose will do.) So here is a touch of PINK for you, ladies.
I’m not sure how good I am at friendship. For most of my life it was clear that I took more than I was able to give, because let’s face it, I was an insecure mess. I know I am a very entertaining friend, but can I really be here when I am needed? Do I know how to soothe, support and listen the way my friends have soothed me, supported me, and listened (tirelessly—at least in appearance) to me?
Although there are three love stories in Hidden in Paris, it is not surprising, given my less than stellar antecedents that the main theme I explore in the novel is friendship between women. Women who, like myself, are not always good at friendship. I did not set out to write a book about friendship between women, but I guess it was the book that needed to be written, and the writing of it allowed me to observe and analyze my feelings at a safe distance.
Trust issues and past wounds can get in the way of experiencing friendship, but when you finally meet that gem of a person, your life can be changed forever.
I offered a giveaway on the fantastic Breast Cancer support site Pink Link and today I was very touched to read testimonies of women who went through breast cancer ordeals and expressed how friendship helped them pull through the worst times. Please read here on the Cancer Survivor Blog and congratulations to Tammy, Nancy and Crystal, winners of the Pink Link giveaway.
There were more winners in December: Congratulations to Silvia, an expatriation specialist, and Carol, a talented artist ) for winning a copy of Hidden in Paris on the website Expat Forever and than you Véronique Martin-Place, author of the book Finding your Feet in Chicago, for hosting it.
The time of giving and receiving is not over, girlfriends! I've just created a new giveaway on Goodreads, here is the link. You have to be Goodreads member to participate.
I hope your new year is beautiful, sexy, cancer-free, and filled with great girlfriends. (Unless you're a guy and you're married. In which case, hold the girl friend wish.)
For picture credit on this post, please follow this pinterest link This is my pinterest account and so much easier than to chase down credits. Chasing credit is so time consuming that I end up not blogging at all, so this is my compromise.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
Friday was that terrible shooting and I cried and cried. Then I made dozens upon dozens of lemon bars (my lemon tree is super generous this year). I put the lemon bars in pretty paper bags and gave them to everyone that crossed my path: neighbors, people my husband works with, friends. I just wanted to give, and share, and feel connected to the human race, at least the part of the human race that doesn't SUCK.
And then I decorated my house for the holidays: Please notice below my Sapin de Noël is in good company between my buddha and my menora.
Also, I'm giving away free copies of my novel Hidden in Paris, thanks to the smart and talented Véronique.
Véronique is one of those impressive women able to turn a challenging life (moving from country to country with her two young daughters because of her husband's work) into a positive: helping other expats and writing books about the expatriate life.
How would you feel about not being able to set roots, or know for sure how much of your heart you can invest in any given country? I would have a very hard time with this, personally. Véronique recently published Finding your Feet in Chicago. If you're moving to Chicago or know someone who does, this is the book you absolutely need.
See what I mean about humanity that doesn't suck?
If you read French, check out Véronique's blog. She has recently started over (again!) In Shanghai. I'm not sure she is enjoying her new Chinese life as much as I'm enjoying reading about it. She comments on her Carrefour shopping (the equivalent of Vons or Ralphs in the U.S.), and explains that buying your fish involves having to catch it yourself armed with a fishnet as it swims inside a large aquarium. Or how picking your meat at the meat counter really means picking it: going at it with bare hands. Or how eggs are never refrigerated in Shanghai so every time she plans an omelet she wonders if she might find a baby chick while cracking the eggs over her pan. She tells of a couple and their two children entering the store on a moped and with helmets on their heads and shopping for their groceries like this while no one else seems surprised.
I can't wait to read that book!
All right, I hope you're like these images of Noël. Why do I not call it Christmas this year? Out of respect for the people who want to keep 'Christ in Christmas.' Yes. I finally found a loophole around my guilt! (and more guilt here and here.)
For picture credit please go to my holiday pinterest page here. The first two are mine.
I'm leaving you with a quote from The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller. It resonated with me, the idea of the heart bursting. Especially after the terrible tragedy of Thursday. Do we even notice when our hearts are filled with love, or do we overlook it? Until something happens and we see what is lost.
" I mean I felt my heart might just burst. Bursting is different than breaking. Like there is no way to contain how beautiful. Not it either, not just beauty. Something about how I fit..."
Have a wonderful end of the year, everyone.
Helloooo blog world!
I've had to tone it down in the blogging department because I'm feverishly working on two books at once. One is my next novel (It's not a sequel to Hidden in Paris. That will have to wait a bit or else I'm going to lose my mind.) and one is a self-help book for neurotic writers, which, as you can imagine, I am uniquely qualified to write.
I'm planning to write the weather away skipping --if possible--the madness of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although I am celebrating the season in my own way by experimenting with pies (a future cookbook perhaps?) I'm trying to produce *The* perfect crust. Flaky, golden, but that won't crumble into pie shrapnels when you slice it. There's been a lot of failures as in any scientific endeavors, and I'm my own guinnea pig, and I'm left to I'm eat hits and misses. So if by Spring time they have to send a crane to dislodge my butt from my desk chair I will blame it on science and on my readers. I do it all for you. You know I do!
Meanwhile here are a few photos I took in Paris last April. You remember how it rained and rained?
But really all this rain was lovely. I loved that popular streets were eerily deserted.
When you want to take tourist-free pictures in Montmartre, just go early in the morning and make sure the rain is coming down by the bucket full.
Nostalgia was in every corner. From sounds, to smells and sights, it all came back, rushing in. It was as though I had never left. I wandered thinking of my novel, placing my new characters in this quartier or that one. But really, I was gorging on Paris. It was also my first time in over 20 years when I got to have a husband and children-free Parisian experience. This means I got to do precisely what I wanted, go where I wanted, eat and rest when I wanted. That freedom was the greatest luxury of all.
When I was tired I sat at a café or a bistro and ordered something unbelievably delicious and wrong, and proceeded to spy on French conversations. I secretly took page after page of notes about interesting Parisian quirks. That's the good thing of being an expatriate. You get to look at your country of birth with fresh new eyes. Parisians (i.e. me) really made me crack up. The shrugs, the eye rolls, the onomatopoeia, the énervement... Stuff straight out of Inspector Clouseau!
I was amazed at the elaborate flower shops at every Parisian corner. Who buys all those flowers I wondered? In Los Angeles or New York you can buy flowers at the grocery store. But how can so many shops survive by selling flowers exclusively? The result is that in Paris you can't forget love and romance even for a minute. Good: I was writing a love story. It put me right in the spirit.
This bistro (above) had just opened for the day when i took this picture. Ten minutes later it would be bustling. There would be delicious cafés au lait on tables, and demie baguettes and butter and jam. But I was off to the next street. I had no itinerary. I went from one shiny thing to another. I got lost on purpose.
To people who say they've always wanted to go to Paris but haven't found the time or the money I say save up, save up. One round trip ticket and a few nights in a cheap hotel and you can experience bliss. Even if it takes you several years to organize, make it a goal, not a dream. And don't wait to deserve it, or for Prince charming to show up in your life, or for your honeymoon, or for a girlfriend to save her money. Go alone, you wouldn't want anyone to spoil your fun!
Do you read the blog France Daily Photo? It's filled with well written articles and tips about France and is great for expatriates and travelers. France Daily Photo is hosting a giveaway of Hidden in Paris so you might want to check it out.
Speaking of photos , here are a few I took of bizarre things (at least bizare to me) you can find in Paris. I've lived abroad for so many years that the last time I went to Paris I found myself seeing things as if for the first time.
A random wall with so much soul. What is old and decrepit to some becomes art in Paris. In LA this facade would be torn down or stuccoed in a hurry. Same for faces. You can't age gracefully in LA. You've got to re-stucco. Like this: (thank you Isabelle for the terrifying reminder.)
In France it is forbidden to sell books at a discount. The law makes it possible for small bookstores to exist without being driven out of business by mega stores. Also, in France, books and writers are revered. Like they're actually special. The book store above was baffling. How can you find anything in it? How can it sell enough to stay afloat? It reminded me of this Gaston Lagaffe comic:
In Paris, while some people marvel at the Louvre or the Galeries Lafayette, I stood puzzled in front of this contraption. The contraption, annoyed, said to me 'take a picture it will last longer'. So I did.
This is a parisian public mailbox, typical in color and design. Notice anything strange? How can it be so puny???? Can someone explain to me why American public mailboxes are the size of small cars. Is French mail magical and reduces in size the instant it passes through the slots like in a reverse Marry Poppin's bag?
Parisian Fontains. They are everywhere so they must be important. But why so low? How do you drink from them? Crouched? Lying down face up? Were they built for the height of a malnourished French person after the great war? Or are they meant to clean your shoes after you stepped in dog dodo? After walking past them, oblivious, for the first 23 years of my life I found myself taking pictures of them like they were supermodels.
oops it's 9:47... Allright, I've wasted enough time on this today. I apologize if I wasted yours. Go back to work!
A little slice of pretty before I go into muffled mode. My mother is visiting for 10 days so I won't have much time to indulge in my usual addictions. That is if you don't count kvetching about my mother as an addiction.
The following images from the blog Tipsee Tessie and were taken (if I understand this language unknown to me) at the Rice showroom in somewhere land. (I like to be precise. I think it is the mark of a good blogger.)
And here is more from this post I don't know where they were taken. I think in the house of the woman I wish were me. These images make me so happy. This is not something that can be explained.
My question to you is this: Would your man accept to live in a super girly environment? How much say does he have in your home's decor? After many, many years of marriage my husband has given up on fighting me. The secret truth he refuses to admit is that he totally digs it. Right?
My mother does not like my decor. That much is for sure. I won't be looking for validation there.
I know... kvetching already and her plane has not even landed.
Yes I could do giveaways of my novel Hidden in Paris on this blog, but I much rather make it an opportunity for you to discover other blogs. I'm going to try to do one giveaway a month starting right now.
This week there is a giveaway going on the artist Cathy Bluteau's website.
Here is a little taste of Cathy's beautiful work and a reminder of the only possible way to manifest what you want into your life. If you don't ask or believe...well furgetaboutit.
So if you want to win a copy of Hidden in Paris, knows someone who would enjoy reading a novel set in Paris or if you want to spread the word about a new book giveaway (real paper folks :-) hop on here.
See, I asked. I believed... and now you shall receive.
UPDATE: vero and Julie won. bravo les filles!
The month of August has been one wild ride. One kid off to college, moving him to his new apartment and saying choked-up good byes. My youngest starting school mid August and having to plunge right back into homework instead of the pool. No fair! Visitors badly in need of tlc. Politicians rocking it like it's 1895 and raising my hair on ends. Then back to back, bam, bam, a terrible cold -- why? isn't this supposed to be August? Not fair! then my period playing hide and seek... at 47 one of the spookiest uh-oh of my fertile life... and then, like exploding fireworks of doom inside my skull, a migraine on Sunday.
All the while writing a story of death and loss set in one of the darkest period in human history.
Holy shit I didn't know if my character (or I) were going to make it out in one piece.
But I did it. I plowed through. I wept and I raged and I was a terrible person to be around but the result is here: 30 pages of some of the most gruesome scenes I have ever read, let alone written. I did not know I had so much darkness in me. What does it reveal about my own basest, ugliest instincts? But every time you write, you face a fear. If you don't you're not doing it right.
And today, can you hear the chirping birds? Can you hear the silence between my ears? I'm starting a new phase of my novel. I am now writing the romance part, with beautiful Paris as a background. And I write with a smile on my lips, I get to have a little fun.
Only a little. Remember: every time you write you face fear. As my characters meet and slowly fall for each other, I am already developing a new sort of anxiety. What will this romance say about me? What will it reveal about my fantasy love life? What will it reveal that I want to keep hidden, even from myself. Who will read this? who will judge this? How sexy can it get without embarrassing myself or my children. Oh the self censorship!
Although at some point, it no longer is the author's story. It becomes the character's. I'm not there yet. Right now I'm blushing at my own prose. In all writing there is all that is under, and all that is below (well illustrated with this image, no?) secrets and lies, smoke and mirrors.
And oh but wait. This blog post? What does it reveal now?
On another note I'm excited to have a few book giveaways going on in the next few months. One will be this Friday so keep tuning in for more info. I know, I know, you already read Hidden in Paris. Right? ...right? well, maybe you need a new copy for your girlfriend or your old sick aunt.
PS: the photo is via tumblr and I don't know how to credit or embed it. But I do have a tumblr now, a small one. How could I resist?
I still get blown away by blogs. Not often. I've become jaded. This is the blog of a French Stylist named Anne Millet. Oh my! I have fallen hard for her universe. I looked at every single page of the blog and now i want her to adopt me. She is going to be HUGE. This is my prediction.
Being a sylist is seeing. I don't know how she does it. How does she know to assemble thigs in just the right way? I know what i like but I don't always know how to get there.
Voila les enfants.
On another note. Who would be interested in hosting a giveaway of my novel Hidden in Paris on their blogs? (The real thing my friends, not the e-version. Paperback like in the good old days:) Send me an email at hiddeninfrance(at)gmail(dot)come. Bisous!!!
Paris, I take back every complaint I had about your weather. Now I think back with fondness about all that rain and bluster. Where I live now is SO HOT that by the time the clock marks 9 am I’m afraid to get out of the house. I just took a look at the temperature. 110 degrees. Yikes! Guess who’s staying indoors today.
The heat has robbed me of whatever was left of my dwindling work ethic. Tomorrow is back to school, so I’ll beat myself up then. For now I’ll just be loafing and staying cool by watching synchronized swimming. Are you watching it too? Tell me, is it completely ridiculous or genius? I can’t make up my mind. I stare mesmerized at the space-age sequined-outfits, the bizarre little hats the garish makeup. I don’t marvel at their perfect unison. It’s the little pinchers on the nose and the gaping mouths that get my rapt attention.
Another way to cool off is to go through my Paris pictures. I took these pictures on my last trip. My friend Flavia was showing me parts of the city I did not know very well (some pretty louche ones, Flavia :)
Fighting our umbrellas and the blustery rain we stumbled upon the Antoine et Lili home shop. (turn down the volume before ckinking or you'll jump out of your seat)
uh ho... color on quay de valmy... how to resist?
Flavia and I wanted everything, but we settled on a few Rice melamine cups.
That's just a random stairwell. How inviting, somehow...
Here are my rice melamine cups at home. Awesome (methink) on top of my red-polka dot oilcloth bought at the marché Saint Pierre:
Okay, returning to all important task at hand:
Off we go:
I grew up in Paris and I believe I know a quite a few things about rain. Rain, I used to think, is a piece of #@&%, meant to ruin everybody's fun. Now I live in Los Angeles and let me tell you, there is something wrong and unnatural about a desert that pretends to be an oasis.
Our palm trees and bright green lawns come at a price. Most of our water comes from 'elsewhere' and you try not to think of what would happen if elsewhere dried up too. Between the water restrictions, the thick pollution, the jammed ten-lane freeways, the shallowness and the butt-ugly architecture, L.A. can put you in a state of permanent mental and physical dehydration. L.A. Stinks, is filled with dumb people and has no soul. (Now for the interesting bit: I feel right at home here.)
In L.A. we take short showers out of mean little water-conserving spouts that are imposed by law when a house is sold and bought. (Or course people cheat and change those faucets, and then live with their guilt -- or absence thereof.) In LA my bathtub is huge so I have to be in the kind of dangerous, period-induced mood even chocolate won't fix to indulge in a bath. My garden is irrigated down to a science with drip system, fancy timers, and I go through the yard weekly checking for leaks because one little problem and a plant can die in a matter of days. In my case, and given that 'guilty' is the natural state I revel in, I agonize over every drop and still feel guilty. Okay... what am I getting at?
I'm getting at the fact that I just spent time in Kauai and I feel washed! I feel replenished. I feel serene and moist and all around energized by that beautiful Hawaiian island. Kauai is all about water, and with water comes life. Within hours of being there I felt human again. My skin and mood softened instantly, my eyes stopped itching. I stopped twitching. My hair frizzed up to a substance resembling the top of an extra foam latte. I put on a bathing suit and forgot all about clothes. That breathless, high-pitched voice in my head suddenly had nothing to say.
I feasted on H2o in ridiculous ways. When I wasn't bobbing on the ocean or floating in the pool, I was taking showers, greedily. Indoor showers, outdoor showers... An outdoor warm shower surrounded with tropical plants with the blue of the ocean and the sky filling your eyes has to be the most luxurious of human experiences. It made me so happy I fantasised constantly about moving there forever. By there I mean precisely under that shower head.
(Another empty beach. It's a treck to get to those hidden Kauai beaches but it makes it so much more interesting and adventurous.)
There is rain on the North side of Kauai that comes and goes. As though some godly hand arbitrarily turned on a faucet. Billowing grey clouds advance with no warning, there is a deluge, but before you finish saying 'what was that?' it's bright blue sky again. Those downpours made me experience the abundance of Earth rather than its scarcity. A nice break from L.A., let me tell you. This connected me with myself in much needed ways.
Voila my Kauai adventure. I feel very, very lucky to have had this experience. We stayed at a friend's guest house. The estate was not to be believed. Every corner was lush beauty. The memories of all this beauty and water will carry me, I hope, through all the dry patches and ugliness of the year to come. Not to be negative, but something tells me that the next few months will not be a picnic.
Why should there even be such a thing as a Francophile? Is to be assumed that when you’re not a Francophile you automatically at risk of being a Francophobe?
Non-fiction books about the French culture, those that put the French on a pedestal those who shoot them down are everywhere. Peter Mayle started it. Because a little controversy doesn't hurt some of the most popular books on French culture; French Women Don't Get Fat, Lunch in Paris, Bringing up Bébé, Sixty Million French Men Can't be Wrong sell like petits pains.
When you live in the United States long enough, as I have, people forget that you have not always been one of them. So I get quite the earful of mystifying French bashing, especially coming from people who’ve never set a foot in France and don’t intend to. Once they learn I'm French, or hear my accent, the reaction is often, "You're not like them.' Sometimes I'm the only French person they’ve ever met and I just don’t fit the description. I’m friendly. I’m not rude. I don’t act all superior and intellectual. I don’t wear a beret. I don’t speak like Maurice Chevalier. I don’t have bad teeth (okay i do, damn molars ...but shut). I take showers on a fairly regular basis. They’re delighted to know me, and relieved that there is at least one nice French woman out there.
For the most part I'm stoic and resigned about this. I try to educate people about France and the French, about Paris and I spend a whole lot of time explaining that all French people are not ambulatory clichés. I do criticize the French of course, but for the same reason I get to criticize the Jews: by being one.
Gone (for now) is the time of 'Freedom Fries', and of 'Boycott France' bumper stickers proudly displayed by ‘real Americans’. When the French government did not support the US in invading Iraq it became very much acceptable, at least temporarily, to openly unleash ones hatred of the French. Hating the French is like hating the Jews. People don’t know what or why they hate, they just do. I continue to make the analogy, however unsavory, because prejudice is a subtle and catchy thing. Of course it doesn't compare. The French have not (yet) been exterminated for their Frenchness. But I'm making the point that ignorance and prejudice, when combined with just the right amount of government sponsored propaganda against any culture and it’s open season.
It's Bullying 101, if you ask me.
A nonfiction book recently came out, which I have not read yet. The title is “Paris I Love You but You’re Bringing me Down.” By Rosecrans Baldwin. I’m understanding this is one couple’s experience with living in Paris for 18 months. I’m not going to make a comment about a book I am yet to read. But I will make a comment about a review of that book I did read today on the New York Times, that made my jaw drop a few floors. This review was written by a book reviewer named Susannah Meadows. Here I will quote an exerpt from the New york Times’ Arts section of Thursday May 31st, 2012. You can read the entire review here.… She writes “Mr Baldwin also gives the pompous city he adores the ribbing it deserves. “Every Parisian man wore a scarf,” he observes. Some even wore coats.”…
Aside the fact that the single quote chosen reveals precisely nothing about the book or the French, (What? Men in France wear scarves? … and coats? You mean just like every man in the world where the temperature might drop below 50? ) I was struck by the choice of adjectives. Paris a what city? Pompous? Of all the adjectives you could use to describe Paris, this is the one she decided fitted best? Did the reviewer think no one would read her review? (Perhaps no one ever has in the past.) When did she decide that Paris was a pompous city? Is it really what the author of the book tried to express, or is this the reviewer personal opinion of Paris? And why would Paris deserve a ribbing?
I was curious and dug a bit to find that the reviewer had lived in France and also reviewed “bringing up bébé” and made copious disparaging remarks against Parisians there as well.
It freaks me out just a little that in the eyes of some people, France, Paris, French people will never do anything right. I'm fine with the concept that everyone is entitled to their own prejudice. My problem is that in the U.S. it's culturally acceptable to make negative blanket statements against the French and France. Why? What other segment of population, what other country triggers and receives such unchecked, negative generalizations? How many cities and countries 'deserve ribbing'? There are none that come to mind, and that includes countries against which we’re actively at war. No decent Americans would delight, all in good humor, in casually dissing Africans, Asians, Armenians, or Italians, or the Swede, or the Dutch, or the Japanese. Not in polite conversation. It would feel and be seen as morally reprehensible to express casual hatred of a population as a whole. But somehow, it is perfectly all right to express hatred and dislike of the French in books, conversations, articles, and in book reviews. It’s a fun sport. The French are bizarre, they are offensive. Their molars are a mess. We don’t understand them so don’t like them. Of course the peculiar fascination oscillates between both extremes. The French also get put on ridiculously undeserved pedestal as has been done lately in many non fiction books. French Women Don't Get Fat? Oh yes they do! Just look at my butt.
I know... I'm making way too much of a short review. I'm too reactive. (Too French?) But think about it, when this sort of thing happens over and over again, to your own people, and your ears are constantly ringing with ignorant, denigrating remarks big and small, you grow a bit weary.
When we travel to any other countries we expect to be surprised, we absorb the customs with eager curiosity and an open mind. We delight, in fact, in the differences. Why not apply this to France? I would reassess the French bashing. It reveals much more about the person who indulges in it than it reveals about the country it bashes.
I’m grumpy when I have to defend my country of birth. It’s just a country, with lots of different people in it, snooty ones, simple ones, generous ones, ignorant ones, the full spectrum of humanity, just like here. The only difference is that they all wear berets.
(all pictures of that pompous city of mine are by me.)
When I work on my novel for hours it begins to feel as though it is more real than real life. As though all that's around me feels like a fiction. That gets kinda weird. (schizophrenic weird?) I was in the rain, in Paris, and came to realizing I was in fact in Southern California and that the strange noise I was hearing was a humming bird dive-bombing next to my window. This is by the way an ugly-ass sentence, sure sign that I need a break.
When I need to come up for air I spend a few minutes in the world of blogs (also not real, I should be reminded.)
Via this amazing blog (can't ever pronounce it, can't spell it) I just discovered the art of Lulie Wallace, the artist who did the cover of this month's House of Fifty. I thought I should take a few minutes to share all this beauty and energy:
Oh Gaaad it's so beautiful! I have a weakness for flower paintings and these are just a small miracle. I want them ALL!
Once in Paris, I braved the unkind elements and never stopped for a minute. I took tons of pictures, walked perhaps 6 hours a day, only stopping at every other boulangerie for chouquettes, and to do research at various museums and libraries for the historical parts of my novel.
Beside being wet and cold, my main peeve with my time in Paris was to continuously look for bathrooms. It's an OCD thing. If I begin to think I might need to go it turns obsessional.
The only places to go to the bathroom in Paris are the cafes. But when you go the bathroom in a cafe you end up drinking something, and an hour later you have to repeat the process: obsess. pee. drink. repeat.
That first day I stopped to pee at Parisian cafes so many times I believe in hindsight that I was doing the human equivalent of marking my territory.
The following days I bypassed the problem entirely by avoiding tea and only drinking espresso (less liquids.) So I pretty much spent a week running on espresso and chouquettes. I had tons on manic energy, it was great!
I believe I decoded the whole French Women Don't Get Fat thing. It's really a simple alchemy: walk 6 hours a day+ freeze your butt off + drink espresso + eat chouquettes + pee = look fit and skinny and show fangs like a true Parisienne.
* about those pictures: The rain does have its advantages. No harsh lights and contrasts, and no tourists.
These pictures were taken around my beloved Eiffel Tower. This was Day Two. I started at Métro Passy. Bought chouquettes (twice) in my old neighborhood. Then I walked toward Trocadéro and down to the gardens that surrounds the Eiffel Tower. The marroniers were in full bloom, it felt like such a gift to be in Paris at the peak of blooming season for wisteria, clematis AND Horse Chestunut trees. When I got to the tower, it was grey and pouring rain, and then, suddenly, as though she was recognizing me and brightening at the sight of me, her old friend, the clouds parted, blue sky peaked through and the sun shone brightly (though not for long).
I was so thankful and happy to be there. So happy to be taking my time. I walked all around the Eiffel tower at my pace. No husband eager to run to the next thing. No kid tired of walking. I was in heaven.
A sure sign that you've lost your blogging mojo is when you can't even remember your blog's access password.
So I went to Paris and it was fabulous. But before I show you all my pretty pictures, I thought I would share with you the most important bit I learned on my trip. And that is: how not to dress for Paris.
The French ‘météo’ said the week would be warm and cold, rainy and sunny. I’m a terrible packer to begin with but this was no help at all. I was clever to bring a hip trench coat, fitted and belted, bought for the occasion at the Gap (a wild fashion move for me. When you’re used to target brand clothing, gap clothing makes you feel senselessly extravagant.)
Remember that line they say constantly in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris: ‘Paris is so much more beautiful in the rain’ ? Well I can’t say if it is more beautiful. But I can guarantee that it’s a great deal wetter. Over the course of 20 years in Southern California I must have acquired a romanticized vision of rain. I thought, no sweat. I can handle rain and a temperature in the 50s. I am a born Parisian after all.
Wrong! I cannot! Not with that kind of rain, and not with that kind of wind.
Within an hour of Day 1, my boots were drenched, my socks were wet, and I found out that my too long wide-legged jeans made for a terrific sponge. The fabric being stretchy (for comfort) my pants became heavier and heavier as I walked, and as it absorbed more gutter water. At the point of saturation they began an irrepressible downward motion. Soon it felt like my undies were being pull down with it something awful. So for the rest of the day, as I walked through Paris, I had to constantly pull my jeans up. Not easy to do when you’re wearing a raincoat that’s tied at the waist. Well, easy enough but definitely not the French Chic I was going for. I was cold. I looked like a chien mouillé. I was miserable.
By day two, I was prepared. The jeans were painfully constricted into the boots, and I had layered every sweater I had brought under the tight- fitted raincoat. The choice being to be ridiculously sausaged or frozen solid, I chose what they call in France the ‘saucisse’ look.
Because they don’t make windshield wipers for eyeglasses, ( had forgotten all about glasses and rain!) I bought a cheap umbrella at Monoprix. It was too cheap. It did not even last the week, what with being overturned by a new violent gust of wind every minute or so. My hair, which is used to the zero percent humidity of Southern California regressed to its primordial kink.
And here you have it; my attempt at looking dignified and fashionable in Paris, the wishful before and the unfortunately after.
Things got better, much better from there (though the weather continued to suck) and I'll post images in the next few days. If I can remember my password next time.
This has been quite the week-end let me tell yah.
I was launching my French cookbook. (This is a cookbook on French cooking I wrote and photographed to accompany my novel Hidden in Paris.) I wanted to launch the cookbook before I leave for Paris on Friday. Get it out of the way so I could move on to the next scary thing.
So, with cold sweat drenching my neck, I finally hit the ‘publish!’ button (once the book is on Amazon, you can’t really un-launch it) determined to spend every minute of the week-end promoting the book.
And then Pow! Murphy’s law being what it is, we get visitors for the week end, thus shifting my focus away from promoting the book to shopping, cooking, eating, cleaning and family drama.
So bla bla bla here it is: tadah! The Hidden in Paris cookbook.
But the funny thing is, the book didn’t seem to need me. I kept excusing myself and rushing to the computer to stare, astonished, as the numbers grew. This is 3 days later and the book has been downloaded over 4000 times! Now of course it was a free promo, but still, that’s a whole lot of kindles with my cookbook in ‘em :))
Now the free period has ended and the book is priced at 99 cents (at least for now). As I type this my French cookbook is #2 in French cookbooks after Julia Child’s 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking', that behemoth of cookbook. It will not stay at this level for long, so I took a screen shot. It’s the cookbook author’s equivalent to the teenage girl getting her photo taken standing next to Justin Bieber.
Julia!!!! I love you!
What helped the book, I think, were two reviews that floored me by mysterious ladies who have written hundreds of cookbook reviews.
I looked at all their reviews and gulped. Those ladies pass every new cookbook through the grinder, and let me tell you, they are merciless.
Let it be reminded here that I know very little about cookbook writing. I improvised one on a whim, thought it would be great fun and easy. Was terribly wrong on both counts. I worked very hard on my little French cookbook, and tried my hardest to make it as perfect as I knew how, yet If I had anticipated that such reviewers existed I would never have dared publish a cookbook and put myself on equal footing with real chefs. This is a case study in ‘ignorance is bliss.’
And yet I got very lucky: One reviewer called the cookbook ‘lovely’ and the other ‘gorgeous and yummy.’ You can readt he reviews here. They gave it respectively four and five stars!... but mostly their expertise gave my cookbooks much needed street cred. Thank you ladies!
Now the book has been launched. The relatives have left. My solo trip to Paris is upon me. Last night I dreamed that I stood on a bridge. In the shallow water below where dozens of whales, big and small. And suddenly the whales started making huge, wet, flips out of the water and jumping over the bridge I was on. I had to duck as the massive beasts passed inches above my head.
Sigmund? Are you there Sigmund?
Okay, so... Food. I realize most of you who read this blog do not come here for food, food talk or food pictures. So many blogs do food exclusively, and so much better than I would.
And yet, somehow, Paris, France, food, decor, girly things, novels.... those all seem to go together so well.
In my novel Hidden in Paris (for those of you who don't know, Hidden in Paris is my first novel, which I self- published just one year ago) my main character, Annie, uses food as a way to fill all kinds of holes in her soul. This is the way through which she experiences purpose. This is the way through which she integrates into French culture (she's American), and the way she expresses her generosity of spirit even though she can't help but have things come out all wrong in her speech and her actions. Food is how she cares, and love, and heals.
I would say, looking back on it, the novel being written, published, sold, read and reviewed and all that good stuff, that Annie's experience eerily mirrors my own. Goodness gracious just how much of me is in this character? And to think we writers believe ourself to be in control of what we write :)
I used to believe in not talking about things for fear of jinxing them. Now I adhere to a different school of thought that suggests you should talk about what you want to do, say it out loud and obnoxiously to the entire world so that you become accountable for it.
What you're doing is making a promise to the Universe. And you do not bullshit the Universe!
So when I said I was going to write the cookbook of Hidden in Paris, I did not really mean it. But the instant I said it, it became the truth I had to live up to.
As most of my endeavors (and tell me if you can relate) the work involved is not nearly as challenging as the fear of rejection and failure. I could work alone in my little world and be perfectly content, but there is some sort of dark (or light?) force that both pushes me to go forward and holds me back. When I will hit that 'publish' button on the cookbook, I will have braved all manners of fears and doubts.
So this is it, I'm releasing the cookbook of Hidden in Paris, (now I'm saying it Universe! Bring it on!) with most of the recipes in the novel, and photographs produced by yours truly.
I can vouch for each recipe. They are super delicious. Mostly French comfort food but simplified. The kind of recipes a French mom (me) prepares for her family on any given night. Nothing pretentious, just simple, tried and true, fattening, buttery, wholesome French staples.
In the cookbook are my own cooking tips and personal philosophy about food, (which I can sum up to three words: 'me like food'.) There are also funny bits and comments, pictures I took in Paris and Normandy, as well as excerpts from the novel.
The only thing I omitted is the copious cursing involved in teaching myself food photography. Or photography, period. I still have everything to learn and have little pretense. Some images came out better than others, that's all. For me the learning curve was like that roller coaster you don't think you'll come back out of alive. The final result is beyond what I used to be able to do, so in that sense, I feel like pounding on my chest gorilla-style.
I'm trying to make it so that most of you will be able to download the cookbook for free, at least for a limited amount of time. I'll keep you posted. (should be later today or tomorrow.)
This has been an amazingly productive and creative period.
- My cookbook is done and soon available for download (i will keep you posted and if you have not done so yet, go to the left hand column and sign up for your free copy)
- I've completed 60% of a non fiction book and 70% of my next novel. Amazing.
-I've mustered the courage (well, not courage, really. I have my friends Lenora and Robin to thank for my so called courage) to go to Paris. Better yet, I'm, amazingly, going solo for the first time since I left France over 25 years ago (flying there and back when my father passed away does not count) .
This going to Paris thing is not a vacation. I'm going to do important research for my book. I mean, my next novel is set in Paris and here I am, unable to accurately describe the taste and consistency of a Religieuse au chocolat, a baba au rhum or a chouquette?
I don't want to lose all credibility with my readers. ha.
I also want to point out that I am able to finance that trip thanks to the sales of my novel, Hidden in Paris. And that is the most amazing thing of all.
Haha, interesting how I'm now measuring productivity by how little I blog rather than how much I do.
No post since January, so it must mean I'm getting better at focusing.
I'm reading a fascinating book about willpower called.. well... WillPower (Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength). It explains a whole lot about how we consider a lack of willpower a character flaw, when really it is ruled by physiology rather than psychology. the book explains how we have a set amount of daily willpower within us and all the ways we unconsciously deplete it. I'm not saying any more, you have to read the book. It is truly altering the way I look at work ethic, dieting, effort versus laziness, motivation etc..
For example, I have postponed exercising. I've been traveling too much, ten day out of the month, and it's taking every bit of will power I have not to be distracted out of my writing schedule. So I'm giving myself a break about my decision to start exercising daily. I'm only human.
A fat human.
A fat human riding a wonderful, creative wave and hurrying to record it all before that bubble bursts.
How does the saying goes: I'll rest when I die. Well in my case I'll exercise when the muse turns her back on me.
Okay, now for a few images i've been collecting:
I'm a huge fan of Janet Hill. What would it take to get an original? The instant she posts one on Etsy it's GONE! That is the true meaning of selling a painting before it's dry. These days, I love her bouquets the most. I think for a while she was painting one a day. A. Day!
I was thinking how even with good things in my life, I don't adapt as readily as I should. I'm not that quick on my feet.
My 12 year old is turning 13. I was happy with the old number. Today in school they made the kids watch the infamous 'birth video'. They showed everything, mom. Everything!
Egad! Did I want my kid to see what I would not want to see myself? They gave me no time to decide.
Meanwhile my 19 year old notified me today that next year he is living off campus, that 'they' found an apartment and that it will be two boys and two girls living together. Double egad! I'm thinking what is so wrong about being on campus, in a dorm? what's so wrong with him remaining a little boy eternally?
I need to adjust... the problem is I need time to adjust to things. But life seems to demand that we adjust right. this. minute.
Sales of Hidden in Paris have doubled this month! What is this? I can't get over it but neither do I want to get cozy with it. I was comfortable with the slowly-but-surely growing sales. What if things went back to the old, previously perfectly good numbers. Would I be disappointed? How would I cope with that disappointment?
Here again, I suck at adjusting.
When things go too fast I get tension in my neck, headaches. My thoughts go into whirling spins. My speeches speeds up, I become impulsive, moody. I overeat. I have meltdowns.
I'm sensing all of the above coming my way.
I love interiors that seemed assembled with bits of things gathered rather than ''Decorated'. Here are a few I have been meaning to post.
This soft interior via house to home
Pared down, simple, white, and then BANG! via 79 ideas
Can't find the credit for the interior blow: it looks like a painting (on second look maybe it is.) I love the texture and the daring combination of pink and sunny yellow:
c'est tout pour aujourd'hui.
I don't take new years resolutions lightly. If I'm going to give up on something after just a week of trying and then spend the rest of the year hating myself for it, at least I should put a lot of thought into it, don't you think? ... Although last year I did come through for myself in a BIG way doing the very thing that scared me the most.
This year will be the year of setting the bar super low. I'm just going to add one small habit at a time and devote a month to each habit before adding a new habit. I didn't cook this technique up, I found it here. I tell you this because I also read somewhere that when you make a resolution very public you automatically feel more accountable for it. So now I have to do it, right?
My first habit is to get younger by one day each day... before you know it, in 365 days I will be a full year younger! genius.
But really. I like small steps towards big goals. That's how I got most of the meaningful things in my life done. Nothing happened in big vavoom moments. That's how I became a writer over the course of ten years: one paragraph at a time, trudging away, writing terrible prose, then rewriting and rewriting. And see how I casually labeled myself 'a Writer'? The first time I said the 'w' word, I passed out. The next time I said it I my face twisted into a terrible rictus and all my muscles tetanized, then I said it again the next day until one day it didn't sound (so) creepy and self-aggrandizing.
I'm a huge believer that you can manifest things by affirming them. Nothing magic there. It's a matter of reprogramming the brain. Changing my negative self talk (and it sounded so artificial and contrived at first) is how I went from being a pessimist to becoming an optimist, how I slowly progressed from lousy self worth to a pretty healthy idea of who I am and what I can accomplish.
**eek...patting myself on the back to uncomfortable levels** But I learned to do that too.
So many ideas about ourselves were born from repeating them from childhood (or hear our well meaning family repeat them. Mine were: Corine is inept in the kitchen. Corine is a chatter box. Corine is bad in Math. Corine really sucks) This can become the identity we cling on out of habit or because we can't imagine something different. So if it worked in one direction, why not do the same thing in reverse? Rebuild who we are meant to be, or what we want to become,one habit and one affirmation at a time.
First I had to cut through dense denial to identify teeny tiny bad habits I want to change. I could not find any, so I looked broader and came up with gluttony and sloth. Pretty crippling habits, especially when combined.
So rather than say that I will become super fit, this month, towards fitness, I'm adding the habit of eating an apple a day and drinking herbal tea. Oh I hear your laughs...but that's a giant step away from my mostly protein, caffeine and carbs diet.
Forget lofty pulizer prize dreams. Towards more focused writing I only need to take away one habit: the amount of time I spend online.
That's right girlies, I buried the lead. I'm taking time off twitter, FB and blogging. My need to write is really a craving for connectedness and self expression. Each time i tweet or chat on facebook, or comment or get lost in your beautiful images and words, the hot coal of creativity and self expression gets a little cooler, and the burn to write is not as strong.
I realized this over the winter break. My kids were complete zombies (okay, so was I) and wanted to do nothing other than be fed a daily dose of passive entertainment. My type A husband being out of town, none of us had the cracking whip we've come to rely on to get anything done. I wanted my kids to be creative and active, but they didn't have the urge and I was super lazy about being a good mother (aforementioned sloth). My kids absorbed other's creativity by watching films, Tv and playing video games, going on FB and youtube.. and were satiated. I could see it so clearly when it was happening to them!
So cutting my daily writing on social media will be like tantric writing. I'll hold in the self expression and creativity so that they can be , let say, funneled and then released in a bigger, more powerful and satisfying way... rather than... diluted...ewww... i don't know about this analogy.
I'm not sure what I will allow or not allow. Too much and I will not be able to stick to it. Too little and I will only be lying to myself. But working alone is... well, lonely. So I might be back sooner than I meant. We'll see.
Happy new year's resolutions to all of you! Would you tell me what they are?