A simple prune

I am struck by the everyday occurrences in Paris that can give such pleasure. I was at the Popincourt open air market which is on Richard Lenoir, and there is a vendor of dried fruits, olives, and herbs that I love.


This time, after giving me my favorite “soleil” mix (for cocktail hour– nuts and various sweet bits that is highly addictive with a glass of wine), he asked, as they always do, “Et avec ceci?” (“And with that?” The question is to see what else you would like to buy). My normal answer would be “C’est tout, merci.“- “That’s all, thanks”), but this time, I hesitated and he then pointed to a container of prunes.  He said they were delicious and some of the best you can get in France. Seemed like a big claim.

Don’t get me wrong. I like prunes. I just don’t eat them very often. I’ve always liked them, but it’s not something I think of buying at home. But I thought to myself, “Why not? They look plumper and juicier than any prunes I’ve had at home.” So I said okay to 200 grams (about a dozen).

WOW. These prunes have NOTHING in common with those at home. True to the way they looked, they were juicy and really delicious. It was like having a really good plum, but in the middle of winter!

Now he had me intrigued, and he knew it. I’ve decided I will now ask each time for a new recommendation. I can’t wait till Friday!

Véronique Sanson

When I was a student in Paris, one of my favorite singers was Véronique Sanson. I listened endlessly to my vinyl copy of Amoureuse, still my favorite album by her. She has a throaty style and vibrato that are all her own. I didn’t realize that she is such a music icon, but I certainly know it now.

Imagine my surprise when I found out she was going to be performing in Paris at the Olympia Theater in late January/early February this year! (www.olympiahall.com) The Olympia is a fun place to go hear music because it only holds about 1,200 people, so you are never too far from the stage. IMG_3385_2IMG_3410IMG_3415 As you can see from the marquee, the opening act was Chris Stills, who is her son. It turns out she was married to Stephen Stills, of Crosby, Stills and Nash, for about ten years, and lived in California. This tour, in fact, is called “Les Années Américanes”, the American Years, so the music is from that time in her life. She is a prolific song writer as well as singer. Apparently, she had some rough years in mid-life, with alcohol and drug problems (which our waiter at the restaurant before the performance told me. I thought it was hilarious that he was such an ‘expert’ on the subject, even though he admitted that his parents had been the ones who really listened to her music). The show we went to was sold out, and she was scheduled to perform there for NINE nights! That says something about her popularity (And I just got a notice from the Olympia that they just added a couple of additional show dates in April).

She was wonderful. She was obviously very excited to be performing, and regaled the audience with stories between songs. She had tons of energy, as did her entire band, and she was so THANKFUL throughout the performance, for her band members, and for the audience’s obvious affection for her. She introduced all the band members, and some of them had played with her at the beginning of her career, but not recently. The trumpet player, Steve Madaio,for instance, had played with her in her early years, but she said that it had been thirty years since they had played together!

By the time she had played her 90 minutes of regular show, the whole audience was on its feet, and she came back for three encores. IMG_3434 I will admit that her voice was not quite as strong as in her youth, but there were only two songs that I noticed it. She really was amazing, and we left at 11:15 totally energized! Here’s a youtube link to a couple songs to give you some idea of her style.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BH6wjjw9qP0. A fun evening and a fun return to my youth!!

A couple of very cool language tools

A good friend, Chris, told me about a very interesting language app/website called Duolingo (www.duolingo.com). It’s free, and the idea of it is that you work your way through various practice drills to increase your vocabulary in a particular language. They have French, Spanish, Italian, German, Danish, Irish, Portuguese, and Dutch. As you get through the various levels, you can “win” lingots to use in their store for things (I haven’t gotten far enough yet to see what you can “buy”). Chris said it was created by someone who wanted to get documents and articles translated and found that if they created a “game” out of it, people would go online and do the translations to improve their own skills, and in doing so, would provide free translation as well! I have opened an account and am going to try both Spanish and French to see how I do! It is a fun combination of you translating their sentences, you listening to them speak a sentence and translating, or them giving you a sentence in English to translate back to the language.

Chris told me that she improved her vocabular enormously by using it, and my quick look at it has convinced me that it’s a fun way to learn. I’ve now downloaded the app onto my phone as well so I can play when I’m on the subway, or have a spare 30 minutes somewhere.On the phone app version, it also has you listen to a sentence and repeat it back.

You can also “share” your results with friends through Facebook and compete against them. I think I will wait to see how I do in both languages before I “invite” anyone, but it’s a very fun idea!

The other, very useful, app for your phone when you travel is Google Translate. Again, it’s an app you can download on your phone and is a great quick reference for single words or phrases. You can type the word or phrase  or you can use the microphone feature and speak into the phone. We tested it a variety of ways, with different languages, and it seems very good at figuring out what you have said. It is easy to choose the two languages you are translating from and to, and it’s easy to switch back and forth between them. This app was enormously helpful at a restaurant, and in a taxi for giving the address, for instance, because the app has great pronunciation!


Fun Museums in Paris

I always like finding smaller museums to explore in Paris. Here are two that have beautiful buildings as well as exhibits. On the recommendation of my friend Natalie, I visited the Musee Marmottan (marmottan.fr) in the 16th Arrondissement. One of its big collections, works by Claude Monet, was under renovation so it was not available to see, but we were able to visit a collection of Illuminated Manuscripts that was amazing. The nearest métro stop is La Muette and is on the number 9 subway.  IMG_1341 IMG_1345IMG_1348

Another one I love is the Musee Jacquemart-Andre at 158 Boulevard Haussman (musee-jacquemart-andre.com) which was the private home of  Edouard Andre built in 1869.

Musee-Jacquemart-AndreYou can see that the building itself is amazing. We have seen two great exhibits there: the first comparing two Venetian painters, Canaletto and Guardi in 2012; and the second a Caillebotte exhibit in 2011 that compared the two Caillebotte brothers, one of whom was a photographer and the other a painter.

Both exhibits were very well presented, but it’s worth noting that the exhibit area for temporary exhibits is small, so it’s best to go early or late in the day to avoid crowds. You can get there on either the 9 or 13 subway lines, at the stops Saint-Augustin Miromesnil or Saint-Philippe du Roule.

Be sure to check the listings for both museums before you go to see what special exhibits may be showing there. Enjoy!

Maxime Le Forestier

When I lived in Paris as a student, Maxime le Forestier was one of two singers that kept me company. Veronique Sanson was the other one. Both were, and still are, French icons.

So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that Maxime was going to be performing at the Olympia Theater on May 13th. (www.olympiahall.com). I had been to the Olympia once before to see Norah Jones in 2012 (described in a previous blog post).

IMG_2185Maxime Le Forestier was born in February of 1949 so he was thirty when I was listening to his records as a student. I can tell you that at sixty-five, he is still going strong. The Olympia was sold out and it was obvious that he is still much loved. We were told that the performance was being filmed, so I’m hopeful that at some point this year there will be a CD available. He played all of his old favorites, including several from his first album, “San Francisco”, “Comme un Arbre” and Education Sentimentale.” IMG_2196IMG_2190This is a view of the room. It’s a little hard to see, but hopefully you can see that it’s a relatively small venue– about 1800 seats. Built in 1889, it served as a music hall for much of its history, though there were several times when it became a move theater during years of decline. In 1993, there was talk of tearing it down, so the then Minister of Culture stepped in and had it renovated, including bringing back its signature red interior. It has been home to many French stars, including Edith Piaf, Gilbert Becaud, Charles Trenet and Jacques Brel.

International stars have included the Grateful Dead, Madonna, Celine Dion, Diana Ross & the Supremes, among many others.

I am happy to say I will be returning again in February next year to hear my other favorite, Veronique Sanson. Like Maxime, she was born in 1949. A fun fact that I just read about her is that she was married to Stephen Stills in 1973 and spent time in the U.S., producing several albums while here. She and Stephen Stills had a son, Chris Stills, who is also a musician.

She has performed at the Olympia many times, and this time is scheduled for four nights, so they are obviously assuming that her popularity is still going strong! I can’t wait!


Puligny Montrachet- wine, anyone?

IMG_0353Hotel Le Montrachet is located in the tiny village of Puligny Montrachet in Burgundy. It’s about 8.5 miles from the small town of Beaune, “wine central” in my mind, in Burgundy. The house was built in the beginning of the 19th century. There are a total of 30 rooms, spread through a main building and an “annex” building next door, and a there is also a wonderful restaurant. I was there in the fall of 2011, doing some wine tasting with my husband and some friends, and we used it as our base of operations, doing day trips to vineyards around the area, including a wonderful tour at Louis Jadot. I wrote about that in a previous blog post so I won’t go into detail on Louis Jadot, but will say that I highly recommend the tour and their wine. See http://www.le-montrachet.com for more details on the hotel and www.louisjadot.com for the wine.

The reason that this hotel is back in my thoughts is that I am working on my second novel and this hotel will be in it! Let me start by saying this story is NOT a sequel to the first novel, though I’ve now had several requests for that, so that may have to be next. This story is about a college reunion, 25 years after graduation. It is a seven day trip, with five of those days in Paris and two days in Burgundy for a quick wine tasting. The group has twenty-five people so I have decided to have them stay at this hotel.

The story is centered around five women who are reconnecting. For various reasons, none of their husbands come on the trip and it’s a chance for these women to get to know each other again as well as reconnect with the various other members of the group. The way it’s shaping up, there are four of the men in the group, in particular, who are part of the story. Could there be some romance? We’ll see. Maybe some drama when personalities collide? Possibly….

I hope to get a rough first draft to my wonderful friend and editor, Nellie Sabin, by late spring so I’ll let you all know how things progress this next few months.

In the meantime, if you have ANY chance to try the white wine from Puligny Montrachet, it’s minerally and fresh, with a hint of citrus. It is DELICIOUS!