People Who Need People

It is heartbreaking to see what the pandemic is doing to French culture. Yes, the deaths and long-term suffering are far more important than complaints about culture. I hope the changes don’t take hold, either. It seems the major method of transmission is in family/friends settings, and so life has largely returned to normal with the exception that we have a 6 p.m. curfew in order to rule out get-togethers after work. Restaurants and bars are closed, and I see more and more of them dropping their flimsy lifelines of lunch takeout and “for sale” or “for rent” signs appearing in their windows. I think the survivors will be mobbed when they are allowed to reopen. It’s all everybody wants to do–go out, have a meal or drinks with friends. We crave company.

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Steps to Sophistication

I started this post a while ago, after I saw “Emily in Paris,” the social-media-drenched, Gen-Z version of “Sex in the City,” transported across the Atlantic. It’s a confection as substantial as a Ladurée macaron and equally delicious. The City of Light even outshines the series’ gorgeous star, Lilly Collins.

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Emily in Paris

Have you seen “Emily in Paris”? It’s fun, but oh-la-la! the exaggerations!

The story is about a young social media whiz sent at the last minute to fill in for a French-speaking senior colleague. Our heroine, Emily, is neither senior nor able to speak French. She doesn’t even have experience in the same sector as the Paris office she’s sent to. But she bubbles over about how she’s going to teach them. No wonder they aren’t happy with her.

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Fashion Distraction

IMG_5204A little escapism today to a time before lockdowns and social distancing, when we walked the streets in crowds of people! Remember that? Like an eternity ago, n’est-ce pas?

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A few months ago…Christmas decorations were still up. Such crowds are unthinkable now.

Back then, when spring was just unfolding and we roamed the streets freely and unmasked, I was noticing a number of women with, shall we call it assertive taste. Assertive in that they seem to know what they want and don’t care about what anybody else thinks. Oblivious to mutton as lamb snarks. Confident. Regardless of whether you like it or not. Because when a young woman wears something a little outrageous, it’s simply outrageous and maybe courageous, but never some sort of crime against the eyeballs of the public.

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Put together, especially the one on the left.

And so I salute the sartorial derring-do of these women. I wonder whether everybody being stuck at home for so long will make us all either more attuned to fashion when we get out, or much less. I have paid zero attention to clothes since the lockdown. No appetite for it at all. (It seems I am not alone in letting go of appearances. This article says lipstick sales are down 82%, eye makeup down 68% and deodorant down 45%.)  And you? Do you dress for yourself, for others, for your partner? Maybe all three, depending on the circumstance? Are you daring or classic?IMG_5178This woman caught my eye because she was a good decade or two older than me but that didn’t stop her from rocking a short leather skirt, leather beret and tall boots, with a little leopard, of course. My reaction was “you go, girl!”IMG_5189IMG_5024There were quite a few beret sightings before the weather warmed up and we had to stop going out.IMG_4921This woman clearly has something in mind. This outfit isn’t a willy nilly closet grab, like throwing on a jeans and a T-shirt. The tiered skirt is interesting; I bet there’s a story to it. And the headscarf, which is not a simple bandana but has layers. It isn’t something I would try, but I commend her for her use of color and mix of patterns. Life would be boring if everybody dressed like the mannequin in the top photo (which is more or less what I wear, but with flats).IMG_5200IMG_5207Wide, cropped pants are a thing. Worn with brogues or “creepers,” as the French call them. A challenging silhouette, but most of the women I see wearing it clearly do not care about looking taller and thinner. The wide pants are comfortable, and being cropped you don’t worry about the hem, and the flat shoes also are comfortable. They are dressing for themselves. Chapeau!IMG_5201I suspect this one dresses for him. If that makes them happy, then fine. Rad haircut!IMG_5194Another rad haircut with an otherwise very classic look. My haircut is the same as in the black-and-white photo of me with missing front teeth. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. In my defense, it’s the same cut as Anna Wintour. Something my husband or kid can cut for me–a plus these days! (I doubt Anna’s hubby is cutting her hair, though.)IMG_4802This woman is someone I worry about. I used to see her regularly diving through trash cans and fishing out half-eaten food. Even in the dead of winter, she had no more than a big sweater. I wonder what has become of her and how she ended up like this. We are lucky to have a roof over our heads and food to eat. Concerns about fashion feel frivolous in the face of a pandemic, though sometimes they’re a welcome distraction.

Are you dressing up these days? Or is getting dressed at all enough of a victory?

 

 

 

 

Looking Good in Bad Weather

IMG_4694Good riddance, Gloria. Spain and southern France were pummeled earlier this week by Tempête Gloria, which flooded a bunch of places, including Carcassonne, where the Aude river ran into the streets despite having a large floodplain where vineyards, vegetable farms and parks are adapted for soaking up surplus water.

We didn’t get out much, because il tombait des cordes (literally, it was raining ropes–imagine rain falling so hard it seems like ropes–but more akin to raining cats and dogs). Now the sun is out again and it’s in the mid-50s F. As you can see from the photos, even bad weather here is pretty mild, except when we get three months of rain in two days, and even then it wasn’t cold.

I’m seeing lots of young women wearing black tights or semi-opaque nylons with white athletic shoes and skirts, like in the top photo. Sometimes the skirts are short, sometimes long like the one above. I don’t follow sneaker trends but hers seem unusually spiky. Also, the guy next to her has some very colorful Nikes.IMG_4575Winter white is another trend. The young woman’s white skirt, this woman’s white pants. Do you wear a sweater as a scarf? It gives her a nice color accent, and, hey, if it turns out to be colder than she thought she can put on the sweater for an extra layer. Practical!IMG_4771A white coat. Her boots were interesting but my toes hurt just looking at those heels. IMG_4213Another white coat, with white boots. And a scarf. Always a scarf. IMG_4577Even on men. Hanging insouciantly.IMG_4768You also can coordinate your white coat with your white dog. However big it looks, in reality it was bigger. HUGE.IMG_4364Red is even more popular as a coat color. Note that the top of her bag is red. This coat had a lovely swing to it as she walked, thanks to the pleats in the back.IMG_4254All-in for red.IMG_4255She looked so good–straight posture, good haircut, shiny shoes, cleverly tied scarf, that red coat. IMG_4256Also red accents, on the right, or all blue, on the left. The audacity of a red artificial flower in her hair–I love it. I want to sit and have coffee with her and hear all about her life, because I bet it’s interesting. Not easy to see, but she’s wearing a long red pencil skirt with flat red boots.IMG_4766A monochrome look also is popular. This woman paired gray glen plaid pants with gray high-tops and a gray coat.IMG_4776A different neutral–camel. Her bag was in the same Burberry-esque tartan as her scarf. For all I know, they’re both real Burberry; I didn’t ask to check the lablels. Boots and coat both camel. It all went with her hair, something I noticed with lots of women, especially redheads. French women pay attention to which colors work for them and they make the most of it.IMG_4777She was just one of the redheads I noticed wearing coppery colors. There were several others whose photos didn’t turn out. Once you notice one, you see so many! What impresses me is that this shade is hard to match, and it isn’t always on trend, so you can’t just walk into a store and expect to find what you want in that shade. They must collect and curate constantly, making sure what they choose will last several seasons.IMG_4695This is quite a different shade of red, and it matches her coat exactly. She gets points for confidence.IMG_4770Another example of flamboyance, with an oversize hat and a furry coat. You don’t wear that to blend in. She also looked like she would be interesting.

How do you cope with winter? Do you hunker down in black and wait for it to be over, or do you have a fantastic, fun coat that makes you happy every time you put it on? I’ll cop to being boring in black–black sweater dress with black leggings, black boots, black bag, and either a brown or dark gray coat, depending on the weather. I have fewer and fewer clothes as time goes on, and wearing forgettable clothes makes them seem less monotonous. Are you also a minimalist or, like some of the examples here, more flamboyant?

Crushing on Crèches

IMG_0462One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Away in a Manger,” which makes me think of a crèche, with all the innocence of a five-year-old looking at a bunch of dolls. I grew up with the James Ramsey Murray version and remember vaguely being outraged when I learned there was a different (and to me wrong!) version by William Kirkpatrick, which happened to be older. But I didn’t know that. What you encounter first is what you think is normal and right.

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This entire village was enormous.

The santons of Provence are famous, but there are so many other variations on the crèche, which is a French word. It dates to the beginning of the 12th century and meant a manger (which literally in French is pronounced mahn-JAY and means “to eat,” but if you want to do apples-to-apples meaning-wise, the French version is mangeoire (mahn-ZHWAR), or long feeding trough for animals). It didn’t take on a religious connotation until 1223, according to the Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales–the etymology police.IMG_4447I have a bunch of photos from over the years and wanted to share them. It’s why I took them in the first place. “Somebody else needs to see this!”IMG_0460For example this crèche scene has life-size figures made of straw by a Polish farmer. The biggest figures are 1.80 meters tall (5’9″). The figures are based on an iron base, to which is woven balls of straw. The explanation sign said the straw symbolizes that Jesus was born in a stable, poor among the poor.IMG_4443This has nothing to do with the crèche, but where I grew up there were no crenellated castle walls with towers on any altars. Oh, France. Kids here who see such walls (big ones, for real) on a daily basis must not even notice small reproductions in a dark corner of a church. Nothing special.IMG_4446Another shot of the crèche at the top. Again, check out that altar!

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If you add a string of LED lights to a tableau of clay figurines and moss, is it multimedia?

There are other quaint Christmas touches around.

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Of COURSE Christmas balls were made into bunches of grapes.

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An effort was made but the result is underwhelming. Who can’t relate?

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I love the cacti under the LED reindeer. Also, notice the hanging squid.

How is your Christmas season going? Is your shopping done? We are going ultra light this year. For the tree, too. Just the blue balls and white lights, and actually it’s very pretty. Sometimes less is more.

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A crèche/Santa mashup, with art by local kids.

 

Knock, Knock

P1080866So retro, so unconnected. A piece of metal to spare one’s knuckles when summoning residents from within. They sometimes are as simple as a ring or bar of metal, but often, in usual French fashion, door knockers are elaborately decorated, sometimes as fantastical figures. They are made to last multiple generations. I love them.

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A simple ring that’s not so simple, with an elegant twist.

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And the simple bar version, but with a nicely scrolled attachment. Never miss an opportunity to add a little something!

Door knockers were the subject of conversation recently, and I decided it was time to post my collection, which is getting out of hand. The conversation was with a reader, who was visiting the region with her husband. These IRL (in real life) meetings are a surprising but gratifying aspect of writing this blog. The conversation turned on which model to choose, how to carry home something so heavy, and oohs and ahhs over various examples we spotted on doors as we wandered about Minerve.

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Not a knocker but an old-fashioned doorbell. You pull the ring, attached to a (non-electrical) wire that yanks a bell inside. The kind of bell that clangs. Do you really want a doorbell connected to your phone instead of one of these?

Take the angel at the top. What work went into it! The chubby face, the interesting sleeves, the patterned torso.IMG_2644And how about this beauty? I think I stared at it for 20 minutes. There are three faces, not counting the creature itself. Is this from a story, a fairy tale? Who created it? Who lived there and decided “THIS is what I need on my door!” Was it a commissioned piece? Was it one of several choices presented to the homeowner? Where do I get one of these?IMG_0457Lions are a classic. None of the lions I’ve encountered (remember I lived in Africa!) would be inclined to hold a ring in its mouth. Did you know there were lions in Europe? As late as the 4th century AD, in part of Greece. I wonder how the makers of these knockers came to visualize lions.

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Closeup. He’s a bit distressed, no?

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The whole door is wonderful. That peephole! You’d have to bend over to see through.

Then we have a combination lion and ouroboros, the Egyptian symbol found on King Tut’s tomb and later associated with alchemists and gnostics, though other mythologies also included the self-eating serpent.

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Another distressed lion.

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Amid no lack of embellishment. More is more.

Fish are another theme for knockers. They look great. I’m not one to go knocking on strangers’ doors, so I am not sure how they feel in the hand. I’m a bit put off by those faces. Do you agree?IMG_1135fish knockerIMG_1134The swan is a bit more elegant, don’t you think?P1070408Or this gentleman, with his pageboy coiffure and Bolton-esque moustache, gazing to the heavens in…what? exasperation? Disgust that somebody did a bad patch on the door above his head? Or, worse, that somebody scratched the door?IMG_2034The one my friend desires is the classic woman’s hand holding a small ball. The hand is supposed to signify welcome, and the ring symbolizes the theory that a vein runs from that finger to the heart, signifying love. What I love is that the cuff is elaborately detailed and that the fingers are delicately perched on the ball. Note that the base also is decorated behind the hand. Never miss an opportunity to add a design.

After all, more is more!IMG_2328IMG_2676P1090129P1060485Tell me which is your favorite. For great detail about the history of knockers, or heurtoirs, check out this post (in French but you’ll still get a lot out of the photos) on Paris Myope.

Last Fall Looks

IMG_3861Before everybody bundles up in winter gear, here are a few final fashionable moments from this fall.

The woman at the top has it all: Mustard. Orange. Leopard. Rolled cuffs. Great glasses. Great hair. You can’t really make it out, but her bag was orange with a narrow turquoise-green strap, picking up on the turquoise in her shirt. IMG_3859This one is the opposite: monochrome from head to toe. I cut off her also awesome hair (simple bob) but even her graying blonde color went with her clothes and looked good.IMG_3878More mustard. Two examples of what to wear for Saturday shopping. I like to think their choices reflect their personalities. I love the flowing duster but I’m not much of a flowing kind of person. Much more of a blazer type. How about you?IMG_3881Speaking of flowing, lots of long dresses worn with sneakers. Love it. IMG_3883Same day, not that long ago! It was warm! I love that she went for bold color. You can’t really tell but she had great posture and moved fast through the crowd.IMG_3894Another long dress, this one with impractical boots. The skirt was tiered and very big when the wind took it, but otherwise made of a material that hung straight down. Interesting.IMG_3899I love the straight business skirt worn with sneakers.IMG_3980This is a lousy photo but it was to show the little details: a canvas bag with a cool rope handle, the shirt cuffs folded over the sweater.

One thing I’m seeing in shop windows but not so much on the street are high-waisted pants, especially dressy wool pants. Shown with shirts or sweaters tucked in. I like it.

The fashion sightings are getting harder as we move into the rainy season. Folks are covered up and it’s hard to take pictures while holding an umbrella. Although I have to say that even if it’s raining, don’t forget your sunglasses. Sometimes you need them AND the umbrella at the same time. Crazy. When I lived in Brussels it was the opposite: even if the sun was out, it would be only momentary and you’d better have an umbrella ready.

Are you colorful or neutral? Bohemian or business?

Genius Meal Planner

IMG_2947Since we’ve doubled down on being vegetarian, meal planning has been a challenge. Vegetarian meals aren’t just the same as traditional meals minus the meat. They’re a completely different animal (non-animal?).

Instead of grabbing a package of meat, a vegetable and potato and voilà, dinner, things are more complicated. Plus, we make an effort to get complete proteins, even though it’s possible to have some of the amino acids at lunch and the complement at dinner (beans plus rice, for example).

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The Carnivore’s idea of dinner: traditional Alsatian choucroute. This is for one. At the top: miso noodle soup made by the kid.

Our kid has become quite the foodie, doing a lot of cooking and learning techniques from  the Internet, especially from Bon Appétit, whose employees now feel like old friends.

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Pickled red onions, an idea from Bon Appétit, now a staple in our fridge. Such snappy flavor! 

A few weeks ago, local teens were treated to a kind of low-budget TED Talk about food waste, hosted by the company that does municipal solid waste removal, Covaldem. A repeat of the talk in the evening was aimed at adults, with a no-waste tasting afterward. The theater was full.

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Enough.

They even gave away a little booklet of “anti-gaspi” (anti-gaspillage = no waste) recipes by local chefs. For example, autumn vegetable soup with croutons, a velouté (thick soup) of potimarron (a kind of small, sweet pumpkin) with a “tartine” made with the potimarron skin, nuts, and grilled potimarron seeds. The idea was to either use everything, or to transform leftovers.

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The Carnivore’s idea of anti-gaspi. He gets major points for presentation. Something to keep in mind.

The talk pointed out that 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year worldwide, which accounts for a third of food produced. It went through expiration dates (many of which are n’importe quoi–whatever–except for meat and fish), and pointed out ways that supermarkets have been pushed to reduce waste, such as by having a display for discounted food that’s about to expire, or for “ugly” vegetables and fruit, also discounted. They also said restaurants are being encouraged to let diners take home what’s left of their meals, not in “doggie bags” but in “gourmet bags.”

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For tomatoes, especially, the uglier the better.

The talk also pointed out that meal planning can reduce waste. A few days later, a friend told me about an app for meal planning and it’s everything I wanted. It’s called Jow, and it seems to be available only in France. That’s because it links to several chains of supermarkets to make your shopping list, which you can then order online. The app is free, so they must make their money by getting a commission from the supermarkets.

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Rice and squash patties. Not bad, but didn’t hold shape.

I prefer to buy my produce at the market, so I haven’t made any purchases through the app. Curiously, even though the app is French and I never made any language selection, some of the recipes turn up in English. Or partly in English and partly in French. It’s fine with me–it’s how we roll in our house.

First you choose your supermarket (you can put anything, just to continue. A Walter Mitty moment where you can pick your dream French town). Then how many people you’re cooking for and how many are children. Then what you eat: everything/vegetarian/vegan/no pork/no gluten/no dairy.

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More elaborate: gaspacho; zucchini noodles, polenta with pesto, mushroom tofu, red pepper hummus, salad (this kind is called mâche), sprouts.

Next it asks what you have in your kitchen: oven, microwave, stovetop, fryer, blender (and what kind), automatic cooker (Thermomix or other brand–they’re listed). Then you put in how many meals you want to plan: 2? 5? 7?

Et boum! (Not a typo–that’s the French spelling.) Meal ideas, mostly one-dish, with recipes and compiled shopping list. The recipes change each week. Doing it just now, Jow suggested onion quiche with chèvre and honey, shakshuka, eggplant curry, pear and gorgonzola pizza, and sweet potato gratin with chestnuts. If you don’t like something, you click on the remplacer button and it suggests something else.

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Lunch regular: winter vegetable salad. Often involving beets.

Click on the red shopping cart to get your shopping list. There, you can eliminate items that you already have in your pantry or add other things you need, like breakfast foods or dish soap. The entire list for the five menus above come to €49.40 at Leclerc.

I made the eggplant curry, but I had only a tiny eggplant, so I added other vegetables (mushrooms and spinach stems….yes stems. You can get bags of baby spinach at the store but at the market it’s much bigger, sometimes with the roots still attached). Last week there was a quiche with roasted butternut squash and red onion; I substituted leeks and zucchini. I also made the risotto with red peppers.

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The risotto with red and yellow peppers, and roussilous mushrooms sautéed in butter with parsley.

Other suggestions under vegetarian: onion tart tatin; Tunisian lablabi; roasted camembert; crunchy tofu with quinoa and broccoli; roasted tomatoes with feta; chèvre and spinach tourte; eggplant parmesan; lentil and avocado salad; salad with dried apricots and spice bread; beet, chèvre and nut quiche; zucchini crumble; pasta with muchrooms; gnocchi with spinach and gorgonzola; polenta with roasted tomatoes. And you can click on more recipes. There are other buttons to try: favorites, new, exotic, autumn, express, desserts, healthy, veggie, gluten-free.

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The mushrooms cooking. They are heaven. A local specialty, from the Black Mountains.

It’s easy to eliminate things you don’t want. The recipes are quick and easy and they give an idea of reasonable portion sizes. Some, like the tarts and quiches, are for four–you can’t really make a quiche for two–so we have leftovers for lunch. I realize that while I eat very healthy–everything homemade, heavy on vegetables–I eat too much. Portion control is the very French way of dieting. My Fitbit tells me that even with running I barely pass 2,000 calories in a day, far less on the days I don’t run, then something has to give. FitBit’s calculations are based on averages for age, height and weight. At some point recently, I seem to have passed into a new category, because for the same number of steps in a day it was telling me I was burning significantly fewer calories. Wake-up call! How middle-age spread happens.

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A favorite here: zucchni fritters with fresh salsa.

Years ago, I tried to do the same thing as Jow, but using a spreadsheet, not with all the wonders of app technology. It was an utter failure–clumsy, bulky, hard to change, hard to organize. I am sure there are other apps out there, ones that connect to your local supermarket. But if you want some meal planning help with French flavor, check out Jow.

This isn’t sponsored. I just really like Jow. If you have similar apps that you like, please mention them in the comments so readers in your country can find out about them.

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No recipe needed.