Saturday, 29 September 2007


I don't know about you, but I have always loved getting bumped off a plane if it meant getting a free night's lodging and a few meals paid for (this was before children, of course). During our honeymoon, Sean and I were bumped off a London flight and just such a scenario ensued. A night at a hotel that was nicer than we would have chosen, and three meals paid for. A free and fancy "three hots and a cot". I felt like we were living large.

Today I again ran into such luck. I was headed to a cooking course at the Cordon Bleu that I thought I had signed up for last night via internet. But alas, my name wasn't on the list and they were full. Durn. Autumn pastries and cakes was the theme of the workshop for which I was willing to dole out some Euros. The kids were looking forward to the tasty treats when I got home.

Seeing the disappointed look on my face, the secretary invited me to join a cooking presentation. I was hardly interested. What can you learn by watching? What are they going to cook? What are the hours? What does it cost?

Turns out they are going to demonstrate a recipe for filet de Daurade Royale. Hmmm, no idea what that is. Again, reading my face, the secretary (accompanied by translator) translated the dish into English, "gilt head sea bream" (that's the translation?!).

"Poisson?" I ask as it is the only edible item that has so many varieties I've never heard of.

"Oui" the pair respond.

"Hmmmm. Le cours coute combien?" I ask suspiciously. I don't want to be trapped into a silly class just to make them a few more Euro.

"You can be our guest," the secretary responds. She shows me the menu and it includes a poached egg served with mushroom puree and sorrel cream (one can not have too many sauces in a french meal).

I love mushrooms, eggs and most sauces, and have been hoping to learn a little more about cooking fish for those Omega 3s. The menu, and the fact that it is FREE had me signed up for the class.

After having a FREE petit dejeuner of croissant, juice and coffee (I didn't drink the coffee, just want to show all that I could have gotten for FREE), we enter the studio. We sit in rows of seats that face the chef and his environment. He has several ovens behind him and in front of him is a huge island with a stovetop, a million pots and pans and all the ingredients just waiting for him.

We meet his funny British sidekick chef who translates the instructions of Chef (that's what everyone called him) into English.

Chef was very amiable and took questions while he cooked. We were given the ingredients for the meal in a hand out, but it didn't include the directions, so I was writing furiously as he spoke. (It's too impossible to remember later, even though you think you can.)

My goodness, the amount of labor that goes into a meal. Truly a spectacle. While the zucchini are blanching and the tomatoes are drying in the oven, chef is reducing the mushrooms in butter and shallots and a touch of cream, while keeping an eye on the eggs he has recently cracked into a pot of boiling water for poaching.

At the end of all this activity, his helper pulls out six white plates. Could it be? Chef demonstrates how to "plate" the fish with the tomato confit and zucchini, as well as the poached egg with the mushroom puree and sorrel cream sauce on another dish. It is a beautiful presentation, but more importantly, we all get to share in Chef's hard work. It was the tastiest meal I've ever had in Paris, totally prepared fresh and in front of our eyes. And all for Free! Yippee!

Monday, 24 September 2007

Adieu Marcel


The only person I know who admittedly loves mimes is my mother. They crack her up. It's their silliness (and probably the fact that they don't talk- enough chatter having had eight kids) that gets her. I have a great picture of a mime curled up on a wall nestled next to my mother at the Arc du Carrousel near the Louvre. He must have sensed her appreciation of the art form and it was his way of saying "thanks". There is a big smile on her face.

Does she know that Marcel Marceau passed on to an even quieter existence? She will be crushed. 84 years old he was. Sixty years of saying nothing, and yet speaking to people wordlwide through the language of laughter.

Adieu, Marcel, et Merci.

Zazie dans le metro

A 21st century "Zazie dans le metro" as seen in the St. Lazare metro stop on September 20, 2007. This Zazie is a French songwriter born shortly after the book was written. (Her original name is Isabelle.)

The original "Zazie dans le metro", a movie based on the story by Raymond Queneau about a girl, Zazie, who explores Paris in a nonconventional way, despite the fact that the metro is shut down due to a strike (does anything change?) Despite its cute poster, the movie is definitely not for kids. But check out the youtube trailer of the film based on the book. Some hilarious scenes and some good footage of Paris, including an actor riding on the top of the elevator of the Eiffel Tower. (you need to cut and paste- it's worth it!)

About town

Nothing says Paris quite like this metro sign.

Don't sit here!

Marie's goal was to end sexism. A hundred years later, are we there?

"A defense budget to defend us or to attack the countries Bush doesn't like?" It was a great opener for dialogue on the metro.

Saturday, 22 September 2007


Skyping is great because you can talk and see people all over the world for free. But the best part of all........... drumroll please......... is the emoticons.

It may sound silly, but my friend, who I'll refer to as Mary, and I were having a "visit" on skype when we were playing with the type features. We giggled when we saw the emoticons. Note: emoticons are the little faces and figures that can be sent to visually enhance a typed message in order to send an "emotion" with the message. Normally, I would have written these off as totally queer, but then Mary sent me a message with the dancing man. She giggled her wonderful giggle and then I got the message and totally cracked up. We must have sent a flurry of 20 senseless messages to and fro just to use the emoticons.

And we're not teenagers. It was the best laugh I'd had in a while. Maybe the fact that it was midnight, or I had been too cooped up in a tiny apartment with the family, or I just needed a good dose of "friend", but I tell you, it was a great time. I feel cheated now when I type a message for an email or a blog and there is no "emoticon", it feels so empty.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Thursday, 20 September 2007


Today Maggie started her first ballet class. Thankfully, her friend Tiffany is taking the class also. They walked onto the floor holding hands. Maggie really enjoyed the class and was able to follow along even though she often didn't understand the words. She knew her positions!

Biker babe

How can this woman get any traction on the street in those heels? People are ALWAYS dressed nice, no matter what they are doing.

Okay, maybe not ALWAYS. I did spot someone yesterday wearing a pair of Crocs. I also found this hard to believe. They are comfortable, but that is not usually a criteria in choosing an outfit as you can see when looking around this sylish city.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007


Quinn started soccer today, and he takes a big bus to and from the soccer field with about 48 other kids and only 2 coaches! I told him to be alert in order to not be lost in the shuffle. He said he had a good time. His friend Sacha translated what the coach was saying for him. Yeah for friends!

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Sunday, September 16th

This Sunday began with a walk through the bird market in the center of Paris. Sure enough, there were birds galore and small pets of all sorts- guinea pigs, gerbils, rabbits, and the like. As predicted, Maggie wanted to take some sort of furry or feathered creature home with us.

There were many beautiful birds, and they were sometimes five or six in a cage. Suddenly, all the caged creatures made me very sad. Neil Young's haunting song "Expecting to Fly" entered my head. I was then finished with the market.

Soon after, we continued our Sunday tradition of checking out a Church. This time it was Notre Dame. Fortunately, part of the mass was in Latin so Sean could follow along. There was a children's choir which helped lighten the somber mood of the organ music. Quinn enjoyed taking these pictures of Notre Dame.

Next we headed to the Institute du Monde Arabe. A very cool building with mechanical walls that move to let in more or less sun. THere is a great view of the Notre Dame from the top floor. Across the plaza was a bazaar with a cafe serving tasy Northern African specialties. We gobbled up every last bit of the chicken schwarma, baba ganouj and tabbouli.

The Jardin de Plantes was nearby , and as we headed there we passed through the outdoor sculpture museum. In the park there is a zoo (menagerie is their word), which Q and M were eager to enter. We saw many different animals- gorillas, monkeys, snakes, owls, etc., in an environment that was a bit more cheerful than the bird market where we started the day.

Kids and parents alike were exhausted and thankfully the RER was right next door to take us directly to our apartment (well, a block away).

Saturday, 15 September 2007


Saturday we decided to get out and have some fun. We headed to the Bois de Bologne on foot and scooter. We had heard good things about the Jardin d'Acclimation, but weren't sure what was there. At the entrance we took a petit train that rode us to the main entrance of the Jardin.

This was a big playground for kids. Some things were free- slides, climbing structure, zip line; and other things required tickets- rides! We didn't have lot of time, so we did what was free. Here are some pictures showing the fun.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Madame B. (may be unsuitable for some readers)

Yikes! Last night we met with Quinn and Maggie’s teachers, to hear about what the year will be like, and what they’ll be doing, etc. Quinn’s teacher’s name is Madame Gr.. which is a rather unfortunate name in that it means “fat”. She was far from unfortunate looking, with a pretty face and a quick smile. Quinn’s teacher is very friendly and cheerful. She enthusiastically talked about the different activities the children will engage in…

Maggie’s teacher, however, seemed to be the polar opposite. Her name is Madame B..., but would have done well with the name Madame Gr... She is short, round with piercing eyes. I’m not sure if I saw her smile the whole evening. After giving a general idea about what the weekly and daily schedule was like, she allowed for questions. After a few parents asked their questions, I asked the big one (I’m always the one)-

“Do the kids seem happy in class overall?” I expected a “oui, en general, ils sont contents”. But instead I got a long pause with a reflective look. Mme. B (she’s Madame B all right, but B for Be-ahtch) then went into a long depressing speech about how the whole process is difficult for the children. “They’ve lost their families, their language, their friends…” She explained that the students are generally chipper in September and October. But when November hits with its dark skies and ominous feel, the students hit bottom. This is when they want to stay home from school, have belly aches… and then she said the craziest thing I’ve ever heard from a teacher (especially a first grade teacher)..

“They even break their arms”, she said as she made a chopping motion on her arm.

WHAT?! COMMENT?! “Casser la jambe?!”

Oh, for God sakes, can I get out of here now. Is there no joy in here? I then asked if they sing and do art, and she did produce a book they are creating with poems and songs. And they have done a little art.

After leaving, a Canadian couple and I laughed and were shocked by how horrible Mme. B’s description of the year was. I also had to explain to Sean what the chopping off the arm motion was as he had caught the tail end of the lovely description. (She had previously encouraged all the non-French speaking parents to listen to the speakers down the hall- nice).

Then we met a Japanese couple whose son speaks no English or French (and who is only 5, the youngest in the class). After they walked away, I said to the Canadian couple after warning it was going to be inappropriate, (I’d known them now for over a week, and was ready to let someone really know me), “Come November when the students all “hit bottoms”, that poor little b…... is going to throw himself off the Eiffel Tower.” Sayanara!

Thursday, 13 September 2007


I have to say, the kids really have been good sports. They happily have been getting up when (or before for Quinn) their alarms ring, get dressed and are cheerfully ready to start the day.

This is despite the fact that Quinn is struggling with what the teacher writes on the board (he has to read French, and in cursive which he is not used to). He is also uncertain of what his English assignments are, as they are not written down. Sometimes he remembers at bedtime and is all sad that he is "getting behind". We definitely have some after school tutoring to work into our day.

Maggie eagerly skips to school with her man bag (she informed me there is no such thing as a "girl bag"). And she does this knowing that she hasn't quite made friends she can talk to. There was an adorable girl named Lily in her class with whom she was becoming a good friend (they talked AND giggled together), but her parents have snatched her out of Maggie's class to advance her to the second grade. Additionally, her teacher seems a bit serious, and Maggie has had enough of the mazes they have been doing too much of in class.

So, my hats are off to these little troopers. School has been a big change, and so far, they are keeping their spirits up.

French cigarettes are more to the point in their labeling. "Smoking kills" as this empty pack demonstrates in the Cemetary of Montmartre.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The invasion of the skirts

This evening, Paris has been overtaken with Scottish folk. They are quite amusing without even considering their costumes. They are in town for the World Cup Rugby match between Scotland and France. They are definetely here for the match only, not as tourists. They can be seen downing large bottles of whiskey, and heard singing Scottish battle hymns and occasionally playing the accordion. It's a carnaval-like atmosphere, and a fun addition to the streets of Paris. We just passed about 30 french gendarmes who are gearing up for the hooliganism that will surely come.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Friends and-History?!

Upon leaving school Friday, a few boys came up to Quinn to ask if he wanted to play at the park. “Sure,” he said, “is it okay mamma?” Yes! Friends! We were hoping Quinn would find a buddy or two, and here they are already.

Maggie still referred to the girl who sits next to her as her friend, even though they don’t actually talk and she doesn’t know her name. The little girl has presence which is requirement enough, and I guess that’s what a friend is all about. Being there.

As we walked to the park, Quinn reported that his day was all right. And then a sad, bitter look stole over his face. “We have to do History on Monday,” he said with anxiousness. “Oh, that will be interesting,” I said. “But the other kids have already had history,” he rebuts.

History. The big unknown. For Quinn it must seem like Math, where if you don’t have the proper background, you can certainly get behind and be in a state of panic (speaking from experience). History is not a stepladder which progresses linearly from a defined place or moment. Little does he know that History is one big ocean containing many different stories. One can collect and study parts of History, but it cannot be contained in one person. It is totally subjective and amusing sometimes where people, cultures, and institutions choose to begin to study the individual stories of History. Do you begin with Lucy, one of the first persons found, and talk about the origin of humankind? Do you begin with the Greeks because it was such a smart ancient civilization, and everyone seems to love to study the Greeks? Do you keep it more local and study how your country, state, and city came to be? Do you study the Big People- presidents, rulers, destroyers, megalomaniacs? Or do you study what the average person’s life was like at a certain period of time? Do you include people who fought against the existing circumstances to make life better for themselves and society?

Back to Quinn. I try to explain this idea to Quinn. That it doesn’t matter what kind of history the kids studied. What they study at the school will be different. He is the tiniest bit relieved. I think he’ll have to ask around for himself once History begins.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

First Day of School

So today was the big day- the first day of school. As Maggie put it, “it’s kind of like diving- I’m excited, but kind of scared.” After lunch, the kids got all dressed up in their school uniform. Quinn chose blue shorts with a white polo type shirt. Maggie chose a blue skirt also with a polo type shirt.

We walked down rue de Courcelles which is the quicker way to school. Above the street hung flags of many different countries. It was very appropriate, as Quinn and Maggie’s classes include students from many different countries- Portugal, Spain, Indonesia, Japan, England, Canada, France, Africa and a couple from the U.S. The teachers seemed very nice and welcoming.

We first all walked Maggie to her class and met her teacher, Madame Béranger. We met many other students and parents. There are 12 students in Maggie’s class. Maggie’s teacher told Sean to check with the office to enroll so he too could learn french. They would find a seat for him. We kissed Maggie and headed down the hall to Quinn’s class.

We were the first to arrive, even before the teacher, which was nice because it gave Quinn a chance to check it out on his own. The teacher soon arrived and was very pleasant. Quinn’s first assignments were to put his name on a card , and to draw a picture of the American flag. He excelled at both tasks.

We kissed Quinn, wished him luck and then skipped happily down the hall. We were relieved that the students, as well as the teachers, seemed quite nice. Both Quinn and Maggie appeared ready for the day. Quinn was deeply concentrating on his flag at our departure. They are right down the hall from each other and can peer in each other’s classroom. We were also feeling light because this was Sean and my first time out together since our arrival in Paris. We were looking forward to savoring a cappuccino and enjoying some idle chatter or maybe just a little quiet.

After school, only a couple of hours later, the teachers released our kids to us. They were happy. “That was short!” exclaimed Quinn. “Yes, it was”, we agreed, “but tomorrow will be a full day complete with a hot lunch.”

Maggie reported that she made a new friend who spoke three languages, but whose name she couldn’t recall. They both remarked that their teachers speak no English, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone.

As I predict will become our routine, we headed to Parc Monceau where we had a snack and the kids rode their favorite swing “la balançoire”. We chatted with another couple with a child in Maggie’s class who hail from Victoria, Canada. We traded finding apartment stories and told how we came to be here. Turns out they just wanted to live here for a while like we did. It’s nice to connect with other people in our position.

Monday, 3 September 2007


I’d been planning this trip for years. No, not our trip to Paris, but a trip to Disney with the kids. I actually thought we’d go to DisneyWorld in Florida our first time, but there never seemed to be the right time to go.

So here we were, already in Paris for ten days, the kids were to start school in four days. And I thought, “this is the time. This will be our Disney moment.” We don’t have to travel far- only 40 minutes away by train. The kids are old enough to remember it – 9 and 6 years old. And it might just not be too crowded. Many of the French schools are back in session. We didn’t tell the kids until the morning, lest they stay up all night in anticipation.

When we tell the kids, Quinn cheers “Yes!” Maggie says, “Why?”
“WHY?” That was not quite the response I was expecting. What kid asks why when you tell them you are going to Disneyland?
Then I realize she doesn’t know what Disney is. What kid doesn’t know what Disney is? Ours, of course. So I tell Maggie that Disneyland is an amusement park and finally, she is excited. But not as excited as I am.

We buy our train tickets as well as our Disney tickets in the métro station. We board the train and travel 40 minutes, and disembark at Disneyland Paris. It is only a short walk to the front entrance.

We enter, and I start fastwalking like a crazy person. “C’mon, let’s go!” I keep saying . Poor Maggie was blindly holding my hand trying to keep up when I made a sharp turn and she smacked right unto a cement pole. BIG OUCH. She cries really hard and loud. Sean informs me that I have to calm down a little. Okay. I’ll try.

We make a beeline for Peter Pan’s flight because I knew the line would be longer later. But first we had to stop for a picture in front of the Magic Castle per Sean’s request. “Come on!” my brain is screaming, but I remain quiet. We get a fastpass for Peter Pan and then get in line. This is so we can ride twice in a shorter amount of time. In about 20-30 minutes, we board Peter Pan’s flight and fly through Wendy’s window, over the town of London. I still love it. The kids love it and we do it again.

Next, we go on Pirates of the Caribbean which had a very small line, and even smaller the second time. It was a bit scary and fun.
And then, PHANTOM MANOR (France’s version of the Haunted House)! The line was as small as my excitement was big. Would it be the same? Would the room sink and the pictures elongate? Would there be the dining scene with the ghosts whirling around? Will the green ghost magically appear in our car at the end?

Yes, yes, yes and yes! It was practically the same as I remember it. The lead up to the Manor isn’t as frightening, but once inside, things are very similar to Disney World’s version. I had the kids each ride with a parent in case they were too scared, but Maggie said she wasn’t scared when asked along the way. I could hear Sean and Quinn trying to figure things out. “DON’T FIGURE IT OUT” I plead, I like it to be magical. We all loved it, and do it again. This time the kids can ride it together.

Next we rode Maggie’s favorite, Thunder Mountain. It was a really fun roller coaster that isn’t too rough. Quite an enjoyable, thrilling ride. We get another fastpass to ride again.

We head back to Fantasyland and board the boats for It’s a Small World After All. I totally love the overly cheerful colors, lights and music, as well as the nice ride on the boat. The song totally takes me back to my childhood. Where did that song come from anyway? I kind of remember my mom singing it, but was it also on a TV show?

We get good seats for the big parade which turns out to be very spectacular. There was a pirate that tried to take a snack away from Maggie. Good luck. She just shook her head no. I’m glad we took the time for the parade even though it would have made for optimum ride riding.

Having read many tips about Disney, I knew we’d better flee to Space Mountain to beat the crowds while they were still watching the parade. Maggie was too small, but happily rode a rocket ride with her dad. Quinn and I walked the long and often dark path to get on Space Mountain. We finally get to the ride, and there is no line, really. We are excited and nervous. We board the coaster and it launches off in the darkness. At one point I hear Quinn yell out “I love this, mamma!” I’m glad for him. As for me, I’m kind of freaked out. “Are my body parts shifting around in ways they shouldn’t,” I’m thinking. “What’s all that cracking in my neck just now,” I wonder. Thankfully, the ride ends. Quinn is so excited and wants to ride again, but has no willing grown up to take him.

We watch a half hour rendition of the Lion King which is very good, but of course, not Broadway. No animals coming down the aisles, and not the same level of costume, although they all look fabulous.

We finish up with a couple Fantasyland rides- Snow White and Pinocchio which were just fine. I had to go on “It’s a Small World” once more with the kids before leaving. It is totally magical in there.

Maggie really wanted to ride the Dumbo ride. So we get in line at 7:10, even though the park supposedly closes at 7:00. More and more people keep getting in line. Finally I ask the family in front of me what time the park closes, and they inform me that it closes at 7:00 except for the people staying at the hotels. You can ride after 7:00 if you have a hotel bracelet on. Durn. We have no bracelet. I explain the situation to Maggie. We decide to see if we can get on without the bracelet that I now see everyone wearing. Yeah! After about 40 minutes, we finally get on Dumbo and are ready to call it quits after that.

I originally thought we had to spend two days in Disneyland in order to see and do everything, but we felt like we had done it all. Disneyland Paris is a bit smaller than the others, and possible to enjoy most of it in a day.
But we can, of course, come back!

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Montmartre/Sacre Coeur

We began another Sunday with a mass. This time it was at Sacré Coeur. I was curious what a mass there would be like. We arrived a few minutes late (I never leave enough time to get anywhere) and then entered the roped-off section for those attending mass. Tourists paraded around the periphery while the nuns sang and the priest preached. I wondered if the priest ever became self-conscious with all these people streaming by. Maggie wondered aloud “why is the priest shouting?” He WAS loud- his microphone was turned up too high. The mass went on a long time. And to further cheer things up, the organ played music that was fit for a haunted house. It caused me to drift into thoughts of Disney (my favorite is the Haunted House). We were hoping to go tomorrow.

We head out of church and have lunch at a Créperie where we refueled in order to climb all the steps to the dome of the Sacré Coeur. We began in the crypt of the church and enter a very small and dark spiral staircase. Maggie was scared, but we plowed on. After ascending the 300 or so steps, we were rewarded with a very cool view of Paris, and of the gargoyles and other architectural details around the dome.

After descending, we look for Sean at Place de Tertre where the artists hang out. It seems like there used to be more artists painting and selling their wares. There still are some, but there are also too many “portrait artists” who want you to sit still while they draw your picture. What do I want with a picture of myself? Oh, the kids? I don’t have patience for this kind of thing, so it would have ruined the fun for the kids. We find Sean right away which was surprising as the area is filled with people (silly tourist like us).

After stopping at a café for a snack, we head to the Montmartre Cemetery. There’s something really special about cemeteries. The solitude, the reverence for those who have passed, the realization that our lives our finite- I’m not sure what it is that instills in me a sense of wonder and peace. And this one is especially nice in that it has cute little mausoleums for whole families, occasionally with beautiful stained glass for windows. It’s one of the first places I came to when I moved here in 1986. Not on your usual top 10 list for Paris. The kids and Sean and I all enjoyed walking down the aisles noticing the different details, names and decorations.

Not to forget, along the way to Montmartre Cemetery, we run into a very bizarre shop called “Tombée d’un Camion” (Fallen from a truck). It was a fun and eclectic collection of things-thread, buttons, dolls heads (see photo), old match boxes, some beads, old printing press parts and wooden spools. I’ll be back!
As we headed for the métro home, we passed the Moulin Rouge. Not at all seedy during the daytime. And I always thought that the Red Mill was really big. Not so, it was quite diminutive actually. Thus ended a day trip to a really colorful part of Paris.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Parc Monceau

We've been spending time at Parc Monceau which is adjacent to Quinn and Maggie's school. It's a beautiful park for sitting, swinging, jogging (not that we do), scootering, riding a carousel and most of all, people watching.