If it’s Friday, it must be France …

Joyeux Noël! Have you taken some time to enjoy beautiful light displays in your neighbourhood? Some of the set-ups around our place have been spectacular. Perhaps it’s to make up for the shortage of snow? It was definitely a green Christmas in the Toronto area this year although I’m happy to say it is snowing tonight. Finally!

Here’s a little history about Christmas lights. In 1882, the first Christmas tree was lit by the use of electricity. Edward Johnson was one of Thomas Edison’s muckers, an inventor who worked under his direction. He lit up a Christmas tree in New York City with eighty small electric light bulbs and created the first string of electric Christmas lights that were then mass produced around 1890. By 1900, department stores started using the new Christmas lights for their Christmas displays.  Johnson became vice-president of Edison’s electric company.

The use of lights for Christmas decorations is popular around the world. Our guest blogger today is going to take us on a stroll through Paris to look at the holiday displays there.

I’m really pleased to introduce you to the fabulous Nicole Basaraba,an adventurous  young Canadian blogger/writer, living in Brussels, Belgium at the moment. Nicole shares many of her travel experiences on her entertaining and informative blog Nicole Basaraba’s Uni-Verse-City. Make a point to stop by some time!

Growing up in Western Canada, Nicole Basaraba was always skipping to her own beat. Not being a hockey fan, having no skills in skiing or snowboarding, always being cold, and having never tasted maple syrup, she is what you might call a “bad” Canadian. Having studied some history in university and always dreaming of seeing Europe, Nicole moved to Brussels, Belgium to live, work and travel of course. She soon discovered that there is more to Belgium than just its delicious chocolate so she decided to stay in Europe for an undetermined period. Working in print publishing and website content management by day, she writes travel articles, book reviews and other lifestyle/culture articles about her fun and crazy experiences in Europe by night.

Here’s what Nicole has to tell us about Christmas in Paris:

If you haven’t been to Paris for Christmas, you’ll enjoy seeing some of the traditions there. Every town and village in France has a Christmas market and Paris is no exception.

When you think of Paris at night, the first thing that may come to mind is the Eiffel Tower glittering in the dark. At Christmas time, there are so many more lights to enchant you in this beautiful city.

The first place to start is the Champs Elysées. The entire boulevard is lined with trees decorated in dancing lights, blue, purple, green, red and orange. The trees sparkle with the light reflecting off the diamond-like strings of circles hanging from the branches.

While admiring the lights show, you can wander past all the booths lined up bearing Christmas goodies, food and gifts. Fresh meats, cheese, Gluhwein or vin chaud (warm mulled wine), delicious pastries, wooden games, stuffed animals, winter wear; there is sure to be something for everyone on your Christmas list.

The Champs Elysées, being one of the most popular areas for tourists, has the more commercial Christmas market. When it gets darker the area becomes even more enchanting with the purple lights.

If you want to see a Christmas market that is more reminiscent of the original German style, take the metro to La Défense and enjoy the over 350 chalets. In a small village on its own standing between the modern mirrored skyscrapers, it’s a clash of tradition and modernism that works so well together. The Christmas market in La Défense has more chalets, including many from around the world such as Canada and Germany.

Don’t forget to stop at Notre Dame to see the beautiful Christmas tree in the courtyard. It’s a great place to stand and enjoy the Christmas spirit as you snap photos.  I’m sure it would look stunning from a boat cruising along the Seine.

You can’t visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. Whether you go to the top or not, you can admire it looking like the most glamorous tree you’ve ever seen.

 Thanks for that stroll past some of the Christmas lights in Paris, Nicole!  I’m looking forward to reading about more of your adventures and travels in Europe in 2012! Happy New Year to you!
Christmas markets in Paris and elsewhere in France have their origins in the northern Alsace region, which has belonged to Germany at various junctures in history and therefore draws on German Christmas market traditions stretching to as early as the 14th century. The most famous– and largest– marché de noël in France is in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace.
Are there Christmas markets or something similar where you live? How about spectacular light displays?
Check this one out. The music is heard on a radio station and there is a box for donations to the local hospital.  Happy holidays!
My sincere thanks and a big holiday hug to each and every one of you for taking the time to visit my blog. Some of you I know and many I don’t, but your interest is so appreciated and very motivating. You can’t imagine how satisfying it is for bloggers to see the “clicks” on our site statistics continue to grow. Thank you, thank you! May 2012 bring the best of health and happiness to you and yours! MUWAH!

Choopy’s Cupcakes and Coffee Shop

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

I love success stories, don’t you? The reason I’m a little late posting this is because I took a few hours this evening to watch the movie The Help with my DH. As well as being an important and well-told story,  author Kathryn Stockett’s backstory about writing The Help is one everyone should hear. It’s a true success story.

She received 60 rejections over a five-year period before one brave agent with an eye for a good story saw the truth in it. Click here to read it from my archives, in case you missed it. She’s hilarious and her personal journey is inspiring to all of us who believe in our writing.

Okay, I’m getting off topic … as I do … this post is about France and it’s about success. It’s about a young couple I met in Antibes whose story also inspired me.

Meet Julie and Victor, the owners of Choopy’s,  who are natives of nearby Nice and about as sincere and delightful a young couple as you could ever hope to meet. This warm and welcoming shop is in the old town of Antibes, through a short archway off Rue de La République.

I have to admit I’m not a true coffee drinker, unlike my DH who is an espresso afficionado.

I am … full confession here … a faux-coffee drinker. I need chocolate in it . Give me a Café Mocha or a Moccacino and I’m in heaven. I appreciate how seriously the French take their café and I know it’s kind of bad manners to even think of having anything but a café (i.e. espresso) or a café crème so I had been pretending for several weeks that I was cool with that (plus a LOT of sugar). But I wasn’t.

So … Choopy’s was new and had a cosmopolitan ambiance AND they had free wifi – bonus! I wandered in one day to see if possibly they might have one of these North American aberrations on their menu. They didn’t. “Pas de problème!” said Victor with his wonderful smile. “Explain what it is and I’ll make you one.” I did and he did. Magnifique!

Julie, a beautiful and engaging young woman, is a graduate of a prestigious 5-year culinary program. Vincent has a degree in business and finance. Soon after graduation they began working. It took no time for Julie to realize she wanted to be in contact with people and Vincent knew he preferred baking cakes to crunching numbers. Their quest began to figure out just what it was they could do to make this happen.

Like so  many other young people, they packed up and had an adventure working and traveling in Australia and Bali. All the while they were on the lookout for something that might be a sign as to what sort of business they should open. It didn’t take long for the sign to appear and surprisingly it was in the shape of … CUPCAKES! 

It seemed as if every coffee shop in Australia also served cupcakes. Mon Dieu! Qu’est-ce que c’est? Who had heard of cupcakes in France?  Not many. You can find more types of pastries in France than practically anywhere else in the world … but not cupcakes!

Visiting cupcake bakeries in Australia before they left, they were convinced that this was their future.  A bit of research back home indicated only one bakery in Paris was making cupcakes. Amazing. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t enjoy a good cupcake … or two?  Julie has become a cupcake goddess and every kind I sampled through the summer was über-delicieux!

Along with the ever-changing selection of cupcakes there are several other equally delicious choices to accompany your coffee. Victor’s banana bread with it’s mouth-watering crunchy topping has already established it’s own reputation.

Lunches and Sunday brunches are also served with all ingredients fresh from the daily market. Get there early as the space fills up quickly. The word has spread and this bright, hard-working and absolutely delightful young couple are seeing their business become a most successful venture.

It was always a pleasure to stop in and see how busy they were. Their energy and commitment to their business is evident in everything they do. Customer service is their focus and after just a few months it was obvious they were becoming a very important part of the charming old town in Antibes. Never too busy for a smile and a friendly exchange, make sure you stop by the next time you are in the neighbourhood!

The strawberry cupcakes are to die for … but then, so are the chocolate … and  … um, well, the Cupcakes De Noël are out now too. Just try them all!

And ask them how they decided upon the name of their shop … very cute …

Here’s their Facebook link. Stop in and “like” them – they deserve it. Merci beaucoup!

What are some success stories that have inspired you? Have you ever done your homework, taken a big breath and begun something completely new and different in your life? Would you do it again?

Picasso’s new lease on life in Antibes …

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

In the summer of 1946, Pablo Picasso was in a good mood. The war was over and he was in the south of France with his new lover Françoise Gilot, who was 40 years younger.

Staying in Golfe-Juan, close to Antibes, through a chance meeting on the beach he was offered space for a studio in the Musée Grimaldi. A Roman fort that was rebuilt in the 14thC, it was being used at the time as a provincial antiquities museum.

Although he only used the chateau for a couple of months he was prodigious, leaving 22 paintings and 43 drawings to be kept on display in the space. As explained by Tony Myers in an article in the British newspaper The Guardian, “When he moved in, Picasso told the curator that he would decorate the walls of the castle as a thank you. But they were in a rough state of repair, and in the end Picasso was unable to fulfil his promise, with the exception of one graphite drawing, Les Clés d’Antibes. (The drawing can still be seen in the hall of the Grimaldi.) Instead, he donated the work he’d done there to the museum, stipulating that they should remain there permanently. “Anyone who wants to see them will have to come to Antibes,” he declared.”






When Picasso first arrived in Antibes there was a shortage of art materials – of everything, really, after the terrible years of WW2 – so he worked with what was available locally. Instead of canvas, he created backings of asbestos-cement and he used boat paint obtained from the fisherman at the port. Household paintbrushes and other crude implements replaced his usual painting and drawing supplies. Undaunted he painted with abandon, inspired by the beauty of his surroundings.


Wherever you go along the French Riviera, copies of paintings are often mounted on the spot where the artist sketched or painted the original. It’s an exciting feeling to know you are standing there!

I walked past this one practically every day on my morning walk. Loved it! He painted this colorful scene just before the outbreak of the war in 1939 and some have interpreted strong anti-war symbols while others see an exuberant depiction of the simple life of fishermen in Antibes. Take a look at the closeup below. What’s your take on it?

The scene was one well familiar to Picasso, and he translated it with exuberance and vivid color into his own personal and stylized painting. He shows the spear fishermen of Antibes, in the south of France, working close to the shore, luring the fish to the surface with a lamp. Their activities have stopped some interested bystanders on the quay, two girls who pause in the languid evening to watch the outcome. One (at the right) holds a bicycle and licks at a double-dip ice cream cone. In the background on the left is the blocky form of the old castle of Grimaldi which, since the time of the painting, has become a Picasso museum.” (SI, 11/01/1960)

Are you a fan of Picasso’s art or do you look at it and wonder “What the … ?”. One thing we know for certain, the number of ways people express themselves creatively is impossible to count. Picasso is quoted as saying, “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” Would you agree with that?

Mon Dieu … I did it!

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

Two-year-old Kate’s favourite saying is “I did it!” Today I echo that. I finally figured out how to make a slideshow work here. Transferring it from my iPhoto to YouTube was the secret. You probably already know how to do that but it was a big deal for me … truly, you wouldn’t want to know how many hours I’ve spent attempting to make it work in all sorts of other ways.

So now, if you will, follow the footsteps of inspired artists and writers in Arles … through Place de La Republique with it’s Roman obelisk and the Church of St. Trophime (formerly  a cathedral) with its 12th C. cloister that instantly inspire thoughts of mystery and intrigue, along narrow streets past Van Gogh’s hangout, Le Cafe De Nuit, to the Arena/Amphitheatre and the Roman Theatre where crowds continue to be entertained as they have since Roman times and finally, end with a glimpse of life in the Camargue thanks to some postcard photography.

Now that I finally did it, I HAD to share it. If your speakers are on, Edith Piaf accompanies you.

Have you ever visited Arles? I would love to hear what you liked best about the Bouches-Du-Rhone area. Next week we will be back on the Riviera. I hope you’ll be there too.

When the tech stuff tanks, take a stroll …

If it’s Friday, It must be France …

For whatever reason, I simply cannot download my slideshow of Arles onto this page. I’ll keep working on it.

In the meantime, join me on one of my early morning strolls through our home base of Antibes.


Our front yard.


Pass through the one original remaining gate in the 500 year-old walls that once enclosed the entire village.


Stroll the narrow cobblestone streets.


No agenda necessary. Imagine Napoleon attempting to convince new recruits to join his campaign or Picasso rushing through town to his studio.


To the other side of the old town. My favourite view of le vieux village.


Plan to end up at the daily market with an empty basket to fill.

Where are your favourite places to walk where you live? Do you celebrate your surroundings or would you rather be living elsewhere? Tell me about it.




Van Gogh in Arles

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

I know … I’m sneaking in under the wire to still post this on Friday. On top of that, I’m kind of taking the easy way out today  – but by accident. Honest! I didn’t know these incredible websites existed until a few hours ago.

First I wanted to explain how to pronounce Arles correctly. The most common mistake that North Americans make is they pronounce the “s” and that is just SO not cool. Don’t pronounce the “s” at the end of any French towns ( um, except for a few exceptions … in fact, hardly ever on any French words but then you run into more exceptions and that’s a whole other story  … we don’t even want to get into that now …  ).

So one day our fabulous friends Christian, Lucille and Hubert (with whom we spent such lovely times in France last summer), gave us a pronunciation lesson for Arles. I was going to explain it to you and then I found this website. Click here! Ha! Just place the mouse on the word “Arles” and you will hear the correct way to say it! Amazing! What’s better is you won’t have to put up with me blathering on, attempting to explain it.

Today I wanted to share with you some more of Vincent Van Gogh’s history in Arles and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. BUT … I can hardly accept any credit for compiling this information. As I began my research, I came across a most impressive website about that very topic. The Web is just SO amazing, n’est-ce pas?

If you are in a hurry right now, wait until you have a few minutes and come back to this page. In fact, wait until you have time to bring along a glass of wine or a pastis or a cup of tea or whatever your beverage of choice, so you can just relax and enjoy this. Honest … you’ll love it …

First click on the video here, take a long sip, relax and enjoy … mmmmm …

Wasn’t that beautiful?

Now when you have more time, check out this site below. I’ve already sent them an e-mail thanking them for doing all my work!

Please click here and visit the to see a finer selection of photographs of Arles than I could ever provide. A painting of Van Gogh is shown alongside a photo of how that same scene looks today. It’s surprising how much of this beautiful town and area has not changed. As you can see, there is a load of fantastic information on this website. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have today. I did spend a lot of time on this when I should have been writing but … c’est la vie! It was worth it and I will catch up tomorrow.

Thanks to Carrie Spencer, our resident WordPress expert from our Wana blogging group, I do know how to set up a slideshow now. Oh, was I excited to receive her simple instructions! I’ll save my Arles slideshow for next Friday as I’ve taken up enough of your time today.

When we visit Arles, we always have a drink or a meal at the Van Gogh café and toast to Vincent and the beauty he left the world in spite of his tormented soul. RIP.

In fact, as I’m typing this, my DH just brought us a glass of wine and we are toasting Vincent again and listening to the Don McLean song for the umpteenth time today. Santé!

Have you visited Arles? If you are planning a trip to France, be sure to include this town. Are you a Van Gogh fan and do you have a favourite amongst his paintings? I love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment!

Post-Thanksgiving Thankfulness

The Thanksgiving weekend weather in southern Ontario could not have been more perfect.  This holiday is my favourite.  I love it no matter what the weather but it’s even more fun counting your blessings when the sun is shining!

Taking time to be thankful every day is a habit I have long cultivated and the … ahem … older I get the more I think about it. We all have days when issues drag us down into negative territory. That’s life! I like to recognize each day for the gift it is, grab on to it and make it the best I can.

Before  I do anything more with this fine day, there are some friends I need to thank … in fact, I should have done this some time ago.

Thanks to Social Media Goddess and Mighty Fine Lady, Kristen Lamb, whose blogging course a number of people took a few months ago, a group of bloggers came together in quite an extraordinary way. A unique cyberbond was formed. (I need to interject here that Kristen is running the course again so if you haven’t signed up … do it! Go! Right now! I’ll wait for you to come back. Click here for the link.)

Now for the overdue thanks. Recently, Tameri Etherton(A Cup Of Tea and Sorcery) , Kate MacNicol (Hanging by A Moment), Carrie Spencer (Smartass Romance) and Natalie Hartford (Life Out Loud), talented bloggers all, on separate occasions honoured me with the Liebster Blog Award. I was thrilled. It’s always fun to receive awards. Thanks to all of you! For you readers, when you have time, click on those links. You will be glad you did!

However with everything else that’s been going on in the past few weeks I am only now getting around to passing on the award. The whole point of this is to pay it forward and build community. Liebster, by the way, is a German term of affection. Very sweet.

Ok, then, these are the *rules*: this award is meant to highlight newer blogs. So the blogger receiving the award links back to the blogger who awarded him/her, and tags 3-5 people. For those I am about to award, I should also point out there is no obligation to continue this award. If this is not your cup of tea, don’t worry.

Naomi Bulger, Messages In A Bottle, author of Airmail, a wonderful quick read that is quirky, magical and thought-inspiring … just like her unique blog. Don’t miss it!

Linn B. Halton, author of Touched By The Light and founder of the fabulous website which brings together writers, readers, reviewers and literati in general around the world.

Barbara Conelli, author of Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita, who writes about Italy in a way that makes you feel you are there!

Patricia Caviglia, author of Masks, and a young woman who speaks to the reality of juggling the demands of parenting, the day job, and being an author.

Congratulations ladies! Pick up the award and put it on your website. This award means you deserve to be recognized.
Do with it what you will!

Then – tadaaaaaa – last week this award arrived from my friend and fellow blogger, Angela Orlowski-Peart, who writes from the heart and has the best smile ever!

Here are the rules for this award:

1. Thank and link to the person who nominated me.
2. Share seven random facts about myself – which I did here.
3. Pass the award along to deserving blogging buddies.
4. Contact those buddies to congratulate them.
I’m passing this award on to Amy at Everything But The Kid, who puts more energy into every single thing she does than anyone else I know … and always with the cheeriest attitude.
Thanks again all of you, for your thoughtfulness, support, and enthusiasm. Blog on, my friends!

It’s worth the drive to Arles

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

We’re taking a little side trip today to Arles, just  a 2-1/2 hour drive  from Antibes and the French Riviera to the area (département) known as the Bouches-du-Rhône (great info and pics on this site). The changing scenery from La Côte D’Azur,  through the dramatic red rock hills of Le Massif De L’Estérel, alongside vineyards and farmland in the Var, guarantees the time on the A8 autoroute passes quickly.

Wow! You’ll be glad you came along. Arles is a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to the 7th Century BC when it was a major Roman-Gallo city (Arelate). Built on the edge of the Rhone River where it branches into two parts to the sea, established its importance as a port.To say it is a treasure trove of well-preserved  Roman sites would be an understatement.

Charmingly medieval streets, narrow and winding, pass between ancient buildings. Who can resist them? Not me!

The major Roman sites, such as the Arena and the Theater, are uniquely integrated into the houses and buildings of the town, and used today for concerts, plays, and even bullfights … gulp, yes still … more on that next week and modern changes to the ancient sport. Also I’ll fill you in on Van Gogh’s stay in Arles – as colorful as his paintings, let me assure you!

I’ll just include this teaser now . One memorable evening, Vincent Van Gogh chased his friend, artist Paul Gauguin, down the street holding a razor. Um … there’s a reason for the bandage in this self-protrait.

Van Gogh’s stay in Arles was relatively short but he still managed to complete over 200 paintings while there.

Here’s a quick look at the Arena. I’m going to figure out how to include a slideshow for next week. I hope you will plan to drop by for that.




Have you ever been to Arles? You know I love to hear from you so please share a memory or two. À bientôt!

Actually it’s Saturday and it’s Toronto …

If It’s Friday, It Must Be France … 

Sorry I’m late with this … yesterday was a little busy …

Although our idyll in France is over and we returned to Toronto yesterday, I’m going to continue posting about the south of France for a while longer. I receive a lot of e-mails about these posts with great questions and I’m happy to keep sharing information and my photos. People seem to prefer sending e-mails to leaving comments and that’s just fine with me. I’ll get back to you either way … avec plaisir!

All summer in France we intended to go and see the Woody Allen movie “Midnight In Paris” at one of the English movie theatres in Nice. Somehow we never got around to it. It seemed kind of fitting then, as I settled into my seat for the flight to Toronto from France yesterday that this was one of my movie choices. I loved it!

First of all, the camera caresses Paris throughout the film and truly gives you a sense of being there. Secondly, the main character writes screenplays and is an aspiring novelist. Hmm, a lot to which I could relate. I had no idea of any other details although I had read in the Nice-Matin (my morning French lesson newspaper) that Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the wife of the President of France, had a small role. They seemed quite proud of that.

The fact that other artists and writers factored into the story in such an interesting way was a completely delightful surprise. This isn’t a film for adventure seekers or a chick flick. Funny and charming, it’s a romantic comedy – a love story about a city and a culture as  much as about some people who have very different views of what is important in life.

That takes care of the movie part of this post. Now for the music. A French friend told me about a popular singer here called Zaz and I was SO glad she did! I’ve been playing her music on my morning walks all summer. This song is my favourite and I was amazed to find a video showing english lyrics. It’s fun and energizing and  a great motivator in the morning!

Now that we’ve looked at some recent entertainment from France, here’s the beloved Edith Piaf to take us back to the past.

Next Friday, this blog will be visiting the beautiful town of Arles. I hope you will be along! Is there some place in the south of France you would like to know more about? I’m always happy to share information, photos or answer any questions you may have.

I have a confession to make …

Okay, here are my excuses for not having a post organized for today:

1. Our wifi was down for five days.

2. Every time I went to an internet cafe I was distracted by all the cool stuff going on around me. Even in the quietest location it was all just happening … um, maybe my timing was off … happy hour is always happy, isn’t it …

3. I’m packing and organizing to return to Toronto after our four and a half months in Antibes.

4. Our French friends keep organizing “au revoir” moments (Seriously, my hairdresser is even closing her shop so a few of us can share lunch there tomorrow, how sweet is that? It will be my last opportunity to stumble through a social engagement entirely in French with three women whose laughter is contagious and who patiently explain until I get it too.)

5. With the internet unavailable at home the “distraction quotient”, a common writer’s issue, was greatly reduced. I got on a roll with my manuscript and made great headway this past week. A few unexpected characters  found their way into the story and I’ve been having a fine time developing them. I like it when that happens. I feel energized about the story and hopefully will be able to stay on track and complete it by December.

Now that I’ve shared my list of excuses, I hope it explains why this video has nothing to do with anything except entertainment. One of our kids sent it to me a few months ago and I watch it from time to time (did I mention the “distraction quotient”?) because it is just so much fun. It’s been around, so whether you are viewing it for the first time or the umpteenth, enjoy!  Then send it on to someone you know who will smile just as much when they watch it. Tillman rocks!

This week helped remind me that I need to spend less time on internet demands and more time on actual writing. I’ve got to keep Kristen Lamb’s words ringing in my ear!  If you are a writer or a blogger and haven’t taken her awesome blogging and social media online course, click here and sign up now. She puts it all in perspective.

Enjoy these last few days of September!