Paw de Deux …I purr therefore I am …

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

This is a cat that gets around! This week two dear friends introduced me to Henri, the existential cat, on their fabulous blogs. Naomi Bulger in Melbourne, Australia and Tamari Etherton in California both featured this video  so you may have already seen it. I just know you are going to want to watch it again, right? How can you not?

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, enjoy it now. I simply had to share it with you! Trés amusant! (I’ve only watched it about a dozen times so far … just love him!)

Here’s the original video of Henri as he first shared his philosophical angst.

If you fell in love with him, as I did, you can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

BON WEEKEND!

The internet never ceases to amaze me. Whether you want to be educated or entertained the choices appear to be infinitessimal.  I particularly like it when something causes me to laugh out loud ! Was there something you came across online this week that really rocked your world? Henri certainly rocked mine thanks to Naomi and Tamari!

To market, to market …

If it’s Friday, it must be France…

Bonjour mes amis! Let’s go to the daily market in Nice. Whatever you want, they have! If you are a photo junkie like me, go crazy!  We can hang out and browse, conduct a little retail therapy, and then chill with a beverage of choice at one of the cool cafés bordering both sides of the market while we watch the action.

Speaking of beverages, you might want to take a minute to have one while you watch this slideshow. I hope you enjoy the trip.

First we’ll take the train into Nice and hop onto a quick and quiet tram down to Place Massena. Then we simply dive into one of the enticing laneways leading to the Cours Saleya in the old town and voila! When we’ re finished there, it’s simply a walk across the Boulevard Des Anglais to the Promenade so we can park ourselves beachside. You’ll be glad you came with me!

Did you notice the action at the mushroom stall? The customer chooses a mushroom and the vendor slices it open to show the quality. Those were some serious champignons!

Are your speakers on?

Do you like to spend time at the fresh markets where you live? Have you taken way too many photos of vegetables like I have? Where was the best market you visited? 

Spend a few minutes in Aix-En-Provence…

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

Today I’m fantasizing about the beautiful, historical centre of Aix-En-Provence, since the main character in my new novel is hanging out there at the moment. I’m curious to see what’s going to play out there for her so can’t stay on the blog too long …

That’s one of the surprises of writing … you just never know for sure exactly what’s coming next!

I’ve been to Aix a few times and just want to say this. Even though it may not look terribly appealing from your first approach in the post-war urban areas, the heart of this town is a treasure trove of things architectural, cultural and … ah, oui … gastronomique! Plan your day and you won’t be disappointed.

Known for its water source since Roman times (Aquae Sextiae), Aix is also an important cultural, educational and political town. The capital of Provence, it also is home to the Faculties of Law and Letters of the University of Aix-Marseille.

Water is at the heart of the town and its history, channelled and distributed since antiquity and supplied by a wealth of underground springs. Fountains abound along beautiful, tree-lined Cours Mirabeau, where shops, restaurants and frequent visits by sidewalk artists make it easy to while away an afternoon. One of our favourite paintings was purchased from such an artist and I’m easily distracted by it right now as I sit across from it.

Cours Mirabeau

Paul Cezanne is the most famous son of Aix. Born there in 1839, he spent much of his life in Aix and the surrounding countryside, for a time working in a studio just off the Cours Mirabeau. A contemporary of Pissaro, Monet, and Renoir, few today are not familiar with his prolific work heralding his beloved Provence, which often featured Mont Sainte Victoire.

Mont Sainte Victoire – one of those “on the go” shots from the car!

Today there are footsteps imprinted in the sidewalks of the town which you can follow to Cezanne’s favourite haunts. When we were there in 2006 a wonderful retrospective exhibition, “Cezanne En Provence”  honouring the 100th anniversary of his passing, was being held. This is one of the posters displayed which I loved! It was hanging in the window of a wine shop.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a brief look at Aix. If you are planning to visit the area, it’s well worth a stop. Here’s the link to the wonderful Festival D’Aix-En-Provence in July. Order your tickets early for the renowned music festival as they tend to sell out quickly.

Two weeks ago I shared a poster in French and most of you e-mailed me with perfect translations. Bravo!

Forget your past, whether simple or complicated, and participate in  your present so your future will be better than perfect.

(As well as being an inspirational saying, it’s actually a poster used in teaching some of the tenses in French grammar.)

 

Gotta get back to work! I had so much more to share, my friends, particularly about a wonderful blogger I have gotten to know who lives in Aix. You’re going to want to know her too! I’ll save that for next week and see you here then. Bon weekend!

Int’l Women’s Day – the beat goes on

If it’s Friday, it must be France

Bonjour! Before we talk France I want to let you know I’m at the energizing hive of activity, Girlfriendology.com, today. We’re continuing the blogtalk about … what else (?!?) … women, connections and inspiring girls. If you’re taking a break around 1:30 EST, Debba and I would love to have you join us on her blogtalk radio. Just click on this link to take you there.

And now back to France to see what was going on there this week.

Did you know the word “mademoiselle” (the French equivalent of “miss”) will now be removed from all government forms? (The New York Times had reported the word was now “banned”, which is not quite accurate.) Two powerful French feminist groups have mounted a strong advocacy campaign for some time for this move and someone has finally listened.

The issue is that “mademoiselle” clearly denotes the marital status of a woman, as opposed to “madame”, but men are always referred to as “monsieur” whether single or married. Women are either mademoiselles or madames for official and business purposes depending on their marital situation.

This distinction no longer exists in a number of Western countries. Germany banned the word Fraulein from official use in 1972. For many decades English-speaking countries have offered women the option of the neutral Ms, although Miss does still appear in many instances. No such alternative was offered in France, quite possibly because many young French people widely shun marriage these days and simply don’t consider it an issue.

A little history – mademoiselle comes from demoiselle, which used to be a title of nobility in pre-revolutionary France. The  link to marital status occurred during the Napoleonic era.

In another good step, France has given final approval to legislation requiring corporations to reserve at least 40% of the board positions for women. Read more here.

For all of the celebrating and recognition of the great strides towards equality achieved by women through the past 101 years since the first IWD, there is still a long way to go. This article from the Guardian gives an overview of struggles around the world, including La Belle France, faced by women today.

Copyright Petar Pismestrovic HDK

Here’s a thought for today that fits right in. Can you translate? If not, tune in next Friday. Bon weekend, tout le monde!

Did you do anything special to mark International Women’s Day this week? I had coffee with a friend yesterday who was going to a potluck dinner in support of a women’s charity in Guatemala. Each guest was requested to bring a story, photo or poem about a woman in their community they wished to celebrate. Love it! Women do “get it”.

Carnaval De Nice – only 2 days left…

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

Mon Dieu! We have to hurry to catch the final weekend of the 2012 Carnaval de Nice. This is the 128th celebration of this world-famous festival that rivals those of Rio De Janeiro and Venice.

Parades, floats, flowers, bands, magicians, fireworks, presentations, and food … all this and more! Parades take place day and night for 15 days with a variety of themes and more than 1000 musicians and dancers. The enormous papier-maché configurations are spectacular. Gigantic balloon figures dominate the daytime spaces and breathtaking fireworks over the Mediterranean turn every evening into a pyrotechnical fantasy world.

Photo by debs-eye

 Click here to see a video and other information and here for more detailed explanations about the floats. You’ll be entertained – I promise!

The theme this year is the King Of Sport and the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London are highlighted. Yes … I know some of you might find this hard to believe … but the French featured many floats about Britain and didn’t say anything nasty! Carnival is a time of love and harmony … flower fights, wine and food tasting, concerts from jazz to rock to classical and wild, crazy partying a long list of activities to suit everyone’s wishes. No question there is something for everyone!

Copr. EPA – Mail online Mar.2/12

Go to this link for more photos of hilarious and amazing floats. You’re going to want to book a ticket for next year!

I’ll leave you with this one last link to the Promenade Des Anglais Blog which gives tremendous information about the Côte D’Azur. That’s where this photo of a Flower Parade float is from. This particular post talks specifically about the Carnaval but, if you have the time, take a look at other videos that showcase the stunning city of Nice and it’s uniquely magnificent setting between the Maritime Alps and the Mediterranean.

I took this photo on the 20-minute drive to Nice from Antibes, one crisp clear May morning. To the east of Antibes the beaches are pebble (galets) . To the west they are sand. Take your pick. The rather noticeable buildings are the Baie Des Anges condos and marina which make up the only high-rise development on the Riviera. No others have been allowed, thank goodness.

I have to stop talking about Nice now as I feel a serious malaise setting in … I want to be there! Waaaaah …. sigh!

If you are finding winter long and dreary … go skiing! … seriously, I know winter sports don’t excite everyone … so take a look at some of these great options! If you can’t actually go to them, you can read about them and check out the photos. That can be fun too! Did any of you go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans this year? How about Ottawa’s Winterfest or Carnaval de Québec? Now’s the time to make some plans for next year!

Pain, Amour et Chocolat

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

Where else but France would a Valentine’s lovefest include bread? Some might look at the title and think “pain” = heartbreak, considering the love connection, but nope, not here …  le pain is the French word for bread.

Last weekend, for the 5th consecutive year, this three-day show tempted crowds celebrating love and all its pleasures in Antibes which, as many of you know, is my favourite place on the planet and was my home for 4 months last summer.

More specifically this show focused on the simples pleasures of bread, love and chocolate.

I’m betting that many who visited the show also stopped in at Choopy’s for a coffee and one or two of their homemade scrumptious cupcakes! That’s what I would have done.

This may sound crazy to some but, for me, stepping into a French boulangerie (bakery) is the same as finding yourself in the most intoxicating chocolate shop.  Seriously, the display of goods in some French bakeries is like that in an art gallery.

IMHO, no one does baking better than the French – from the basic baguette, brioche, and croissant to the morning superstars of pain au chocolat and pain au raisin to the variety of round, flat and long loaves to the cakes and pastries that scream to be eaten at any time of day or night. Delicieux!

Bread has always been a staple of the French culture but nowhere was its political significance greater than at the beginning of the French Revolution. A shortage of grain due to droughts and poor farm management caused the price of bread to increase way beyond the means of the  poor who were also being taxed outrageously while the aristocracy cavorted. For some, bread was the only meal of the day. In response to growing unrest, one government leader suggested the peasants should eat straw … hmm, not a wise move … he was soon found hung in the square, his mouth stuffed with straw.

Bread riots spread and when a rumour suggested the government was hoarding flour at Versailles, the palace was stormed. Read about The Women’s March on Versailles, October 5, 1789.  King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, went by carriage back to Paris followed by an enraged mob that grew to tens of thousands, all hell broke loose and the rest is history.

This was one of the earliest events  of the French Revolution and, although it has grown into a bit of a post-Revolutionary urban myth, it proved to be a defining moment along with the  storming of the Bastille three months earlier. Click here to read more about the French Revolution and other political and social issues that brought it about.

After the revolution, the government made certain bread would always be affordable for even the poorest family and, as a result, bread is surprisingly inexpensive in France. Bakeries are found in every town, down to the smallest hamlet and bread is baked twice a day. Lineups are part of the tradition and very social although you need to know what you want to order when your turn comes up. Dawdling is not a good idea!

Every region of France has its own remarkable and unique stye of cuisine and that includes bread. Virtually every meal includes bread but no side plate for it … so don’t ask for one!

So here’s to love and chocolate and … well, why not … at least if you are in France … to bread!

I don’t usually eat a lot of bread but when we are in France it’s a different story and one of my mantras is “Vive le pain” as I waddle trot off to  join the lineup for our daily supply. Fortunately visiting that part of the world also involves a lot of strenuous walking and hiking so you can fool convince yourself you’re working off that croissant! Here’s a shot of our bread board on a typical day.

How do you feel about bread? Is it part of your normal diet or a once-in-a-while treat? Do you or have you ever made your own bread or pastries? Back in the day, my grandmother and my mother made bread every week. When you travel are there places you visit that serve traditional food  you love to eat? 

Did you know this about Dickens?

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

Excusez-moi! First an apology – OMG, this is my FOURTH post this week!!! Holy S***!  I normally only post twice a week so – to you wonderful subscribers – please don’t hate me.  I promise not to bombard you with posts this often ever again … or  … at least hardly ever. You know, sometimes stuff just happens. I really wanted to support Darlene Jones with her exciting novel launch on Monday, and then there was the Queen’s Jubilee stuff happening on Tuesday (how could I ignore that?)  and August McLaughlin’s fabulous Beauty of A Woman BlogFest could not be missed. I hope you had some time to check in on that! You will want to bookmark that blog and return again and again to read some amazing stories – some funny, some painful, all true. Great writing!

Here, does this help you feel better? If I could I would send every one of you on an all-expense paid trip to Paris for putting up with my extreme blogging this week!

This week also celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of  Charles Dickens (Feb. 7th) and the planned festivities rival those for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee! Take a look at the official Dickens 2012 website here. It’s quite remarkable … but very fitting for an author who influenced the entire world.

I really wanted to mention a bit about Dickens this week but couldn’t fit him in until today. So then I wondered how I would tie him into something about France.

Bien sur! Of course! A Tale of Two Cities  is one of my favourite novels. How about you? Set in France and England, I thought I would focus on where Dickens visited in Paris while he was gathering his research, right? After all, isn’t that what we all do as writers? We visit the places about which we are writing, n’est-ce pas? Of course today we do it via the internet more often than not.

I was sure there would at least be plaques around Paris saying that Dickens slept, or ate, or cavorted at such and such a location, since Paris has changed considerably since the Revolution! Well, mes amis, I’m shocked to tell you it just isn’t so! At least not that I could discover and I did a ton of googling! I’m going to do some more to make sure I haven’t missed anything but it appears he spent very little time in France. He did travel there a bit to do some readings but he disliked the Continent intensely and didn’t stay long. Apparently everything he wrote about France and Paris in A Tale of Two Cities, he wrote from England. He relied heavily on the writings of his good friend Scotsman Thomas Carlyle for much of the physical detail of the Revolution. Dickens’ brilliance in this novel came from his understanding of the roots of the Revolution and his incredible insight into human nature. However it was really Carlyle who wrote extensively about the actual Revolution. I found all this quite fascinating! If you want to read more click here for an excellent article about it.

A little back history on Dickens – He was born on February 7, 1812, the son of a clerk at the Navy Pay Office. His father, John Dickens, continually living beyond his means, was imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea in 1824. 12-year-old Charles was removed from school and sent to work at a boot-blacking factory, earning six shillings a week to help support the family. This dark experience cast a shadow over the clever, sensitive boy that became a defining experience in his life, he would later write that he wondered “how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age.” For a long time he could not forgive his mother who had actually tried to keep him working at this child labour even longer.

This childhood poverty and feelings of abandonment, although unknown to his readers until after his death, were a heavy influence on Dickens’ later views on social reform and the world he created through his words. Don’t you think he might have felt better if he had spent some time researching in Paris and enjoyed some French wine and ladies of the evening  or Can-can dancers?

So I’m feeling badly that Charles .. I don’t think he was ever a Chuck or a Chaz or a Charlie, do you? Charles just sounds so right for him … anyway, I’m feeling badly that he never loved Paris or really even kind of liked it. I’m sure if he were to come back today he might feel differently. He might enjoy strolling the lanes of Montmartre with all the artists working their craft for everyone to get suckered into buying enjoy … well, it is pretty touristy I’ll admit but still fun and there are some very talented artists in the mix.

Sorry it’s a bit drizzly there this day but no one ever minds in Montmartre. 

He would have missed the amazing Sacré Coeur and those delightful carousels the French have even in small towns. No matter how Dickens felt about Paris and how little time he spent there, I’m sure he did visit Notre Dame  (below) which was very much a landmark even then. It was begun in the 10th C  for heaven’s sake, although it was badly damaged during the Revolution.

Too bad the Eiffel Tower wasn’t there for him because that would have won him over for certain! Never mind, for someone who didn’t like France he was still a most amazing writer whose legacy will last forever. I’m sure he would forgive me too for using him as an excuse to put a few of my Paris photos in this post.

Speaking of amazing writers … pardon the segue … for the next two months, the fabulous Wana711 group of writers (graduates of one of Kristen Lamb’s fantastic blogging courses – sign up now if you haven’t taken it!! )has organized a blog tour. I’d like to introduce to you this week’s line-up of awesome budding writers and truly amazing published authors.

First up is Natalie Hartford. This ball of energy will keep you in stitches as she talks about life and just plain fun. This week she’s featuring Elena Aitken an author who writes some amazing stories that touch on emotions most would rather not admit. Check out both of these blogs. If you comment on the interview you could win one of Elena’s books. So hurry on over and have a visit.

Next is Angela Orlowski-Peart. Born in Europe and living in the United States gives her blog an international feel. This week she introduced author and friend Traci Bell who writes adult paranormal and fantasy. If you answer this week’s question you could also win a free copy of Traci’s book.

You only have today and tomorrow to get in on the two contests, but I guarantee you’ll enjoy the experience of these wonderful women.

Are you a fan of Charles Dickens? Which book is your favourite? Can you believe he didn’t spend time in Paris researching?  I know,  it’s shocking isn’t it? Ohhh sorry, it’s been a very long week of writing. I think I should go to bed now.

A bit about Brie

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

I’ve been in France all week … well, okay, in my mind … and I know that’s not the same as actually being there in person. But almost … really … I’ve been working on my next novel for several hours every day and my characters are in France so of course I’m right with them.

We’ve been driving the winding backroads of the Luberon region in Provence,

hiking the hills, inhaling the aromatic fragrances of lavender, rosemary,thyme,

exploring the enticing warrens of ancient laneways in picturesque villages,

drinking perfectly chilled rosé

and, of course, enjoying the most amazingly delicious gastronomic interludes (i.e. eating – but that word just doesn’t cut it in France).

My DH kept encouraging me to take a break but I simply didn’t want to leave France. When I finally did surface to acknowledge I have another life and do some grocery shopping this afternoon, I had only one thing on my mind. BRIE!

There happens to be, what my friend Natalie Hartford would describe as an AHHHsomely, überlicious, epicurean emporium in our neighbourhood called The Cheese Boutique. Don’t let the name fool you, this place is magic (and will be the subject of a later post). If you ever want to feel like you have stepped into a shop in France, it’s right here. After immersing myself in all things Français this week, I couldn’t stop thinking about having a perfect slice – or two – of Brie.

I was rewarded. The rosé is chilling and as soon as I finish this post, I’m actually going to have a conversation with my DH and we will eat Brie. I’ve been kind of *absent* this week.

Here are a few facts you might find interesting:

Legend has it that in the eighth century, French Emperor Charlemagne first tasted this cheese at a monastery in Reuil-en-Brie and fell instantly in love with its creamy, rich flavor. The favorites of kings eventually become favorites of the people. Louis XVI’s last and dying wish was supposedly to have a final taste of Brie. Hmm – well it makes for a good story.

This soft cow’s cheese was originally referred to as the “King’s Cheese” but after the French Revolution any reference to “the king” was a major non-non so Brie was called the “King of Cheeses”.

Legitimate Brie must be made in the Seine-et-Marne area south of Paris, but many countries now commercially manufacture a similar cheese which is sold as Brie. For the best taste, look for the French label.
Of the 400+ kinds of cheese made in France, Brie is considered the most popular. In fact, I mentioned in an earlier post that the fromagier extraordinaire we got to know in Antibes told us it was obigatory to serve Brie after a meal if you have French guests. Obligatoire!
Make sure you always serve Brie at least at room temperature. Here’s a website with more recipes for making appetizers with Brie than I ever imagined possible. Bon appetit!
Do you get totally caught up in projects and lose track of time and everything else? I’m betting every writer is raising his or her hand right now, shouting “Guilty!”  There are a lot of excellent blogs offering us good advice on the subject. Here’s a great article on Zenhabits.net that works for everyone.
For the finest in writing tips, drop in on Kristen Lamb, Jenny Hansen, Jane Friedman, for starters. As always, I highly recommend the blogs listed down the right side of this page for a wonderful variety of topics, insights and personalities!

A roadtrip to Gourdon

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

My plan was to have you join me for a roadtrip to one of our favourite destinations when we had friends visiting. The perched village of Gourdon has, as the sign says, a “Panorama Grandiose” … say no more. The view is worth the drive and the drive is a treat in itself. There’s a great spot for the usual espresso stop while you enjoy the breathtaking vista with the hills of the Alpes-Maritimes tumbling down to the Côte D’Azur while the Mediterranean sparkles like a jewel on a perfect day.

You’ll find more information about the village and it’s 13thC castle that began as a Saracen fortress in the 9thC if you click here. Roman ruins indicate the area was well inhabited during those times. As well as a loved destination for tourists and locals alike, hiking and hang-gliding are also popular.

The roadtrip down from Gourdon brings us back to the coast ending with a sunset from our terrace in Antibes. The photos are all mine with the exception of the fantastic shot of the entire village which must have been taken from a plane (credit is given to cometofrance.com).

I’m late getting this post up for a couple of reasons but the most important is that as I was putting together my slideshow I received a very sad e-mail. A dear friend in London, England passed away yesterday after battling leukemia for several years. She was one of those people who make life better just by knowing her – and her husband, I might add. When I wrote him tonight I expressed how they always represented to me the best that a couple could be together. I hope you know someone like that too.

So if you are wondering why I have a Beatles song as the accompanying music for this French roadtrip, it’s because I’ve been thinking about my friend Adorée.

I’ve been looking after The Adorables this week (our youngest grandchildren, ages 2 and 4) as they’ve been home sick with a nasty virus. Consequently, I am SO far behind with writing and social media, it’s staggering! I won’t even bother going into the fact that I picked up their virus, just to add to the fun! I pride myself on never getting sick so that was definitely not on my agenda! So pardon my absence, fellow bloggers and dear readers, and things should be back to normal (whatever that is) very soon. How do you deal with the unexpected glitches life throws into your schedule?

An addiction to the doors of France

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

I love the front doors of people’s homes in France. Every time I visit that magnificent country I take endless numbers of photos of doors (okay, and windows too … but that’s another post). The wood, the trim, the left-over remnants of ancient locks, from simple and rustic to extravagant, they all speak to me. I want to know their stories.

Living in Antibes this past summer for four and a half months …  *excuse me while I hyperventilate for a few moments at the memory* …  okay, okay, I’ll be fine … back on track. Practically every single morning I walked various routes through the old town for an hour, my trusty camera in hand, before I stopped in at the daily market. There were few days that I didn’t pause to drink in the beauty of yet another door that oozed history or mystery or charm so visceral I could hardly stand it.

What amazes me is the fact that rarely do you find a new door on any old residence, from a tiny village house to an elegant manor. Checking with one of the town historians, most are at least a few hundred years old. I’ll share a few with you today.

Trust me, this could go on for hours! I hope you received as much pleasure out of these photos as I do sharing them with you. Imagine the tales they might tell. Any one of these doors could present a great starter for a story. Do you share my curiosity and attraction to them? Do you ever use photos as inspiration for your writing?