February 20, 2013

2013-06-07 09.15.17
Keeping in mind that England invented train travel, it is a country that knows how to take a train. My children’s favorite character for years was Thomas the Tank Engine, heralding from England. We loved Thomas so much that he played a key role in three different birthday parties. Thomas the Tank come to our house and drove countless cheering children around the neighborhood. We also have in storage possibly every Thomas the Tank Engine toy ever made. So it is with amusement and curiosity that we revel in the amazing English train system. The Rev. Wilbert Awdry, creator of the original four Thomas the Tank Engine books opened each book with a letter to his son Christopher:

“Dear Christopher,
Here is your friend, Thomas The Tank Engine.
He wanted to come out of his station yard and see the world.
These stories tell you how he did it.
I hope you will like them because you helped me to make them.

Some days people watching on the train is better than others. Recently my mother and I were traveling on an unusually crowded morning. Sitting in a “sixer” with three seats facing three seats is a cozy situation in which to be confronted by strangers, but if it’s a seat you take what you can. Sitting across from us was a lovely lady and gentleman who did not appear to know each other. Next to me was a girl deeply immersed in her Filofax and ipod. Together we happily sat ,like chickens in a coop, quietly awaiting our destinations.

Halfway into our journey a passenger pushed through to the one remaining seat in our “sixer”. She was of an indeterminate age, jet black hair (the term jet black coming from the black stone in Yorkshire – just sayin) save a few grays sprouting up front. She carried several new plastic bags filled with goods, clobbering us all with them while getting to her seat. The lady was very petite, wearing a vintage white Chanel jacket, and fatigued with her journey. She opened one of her bags and took out the tiniest diary I have ever seen in use, and checked her details with a teeny, tiny pencil. As my mother and I chatted I noticed the diary was gone , but had been replaced with face toner and a cotton pad. While swabbing her face I sensed a toilette about to begin. “Oh my God” my mother stated as our neighbor pulled out tinted moisturizer , pumping it into her hands and spreading it (quite evenly) all over her face. Now we are both watching as the blush and mascara come out, along with an enormous club sandwich the size of her head which is heartily and loudly eaten. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she pulled out a shower” states my mother in a stage whisper. Not so quietly that our neighbor across the way doesn’t hear her. She looks up, we all lock eyes and it’s over. Non-stop, uncontrollable giggling. Oh sure, we looked out the windows, at the ceiling , on the floor to divert our attention but nothing helped.

Then out came the popcorn.

Never has popcorn been eaten with such gusto, every kernel sucked through and macerated into oblivion.

Cue commencement of the teeth picking.

My mother, myself and our neighbor convulsed in laughter, tears pouring down our faces, not able to catch a breath. Half the train started giggling. Now, my mother and I have been known to giggle uncontrollably at inappropriate times. I’m not sure this was one of them. As for our source of amusement, she was completely oblivious – to any of it.

Ah, train travel.

August 8, 2010

It feels like a year. Okay, the expected re-entry process has been more difficult than anticipated. Picture a CD playing at full tilt that's ripped out of the player. That's me.  For one thing, let's discuss the bugs. Evidently there has been an infestation of mosquitoes from a horror movie since we left. Creature Features lives.  While walking around the backyard and surveying the weed situation, myself and my five year old were attacked by mosquitoes. They went down my shirt and up my pants legs. Who gets bit on their knees while wearing pants? I do. Then I noticed many small children in town looking like they had chicken pox on their faces. Upon further investigation it appeared that the evil mosquitoes had descended upon them as well. Ick.

I love farmer's markets. From the first sign of spring I am anticipating the energy rush of all the beautiful produce plucked so recently from the ground. Summer is my favorite time to cook and prepare meals, inspired by the gorgeous bounty. Obviously our local farmer's markets are not going to bear any similarity to the ones in France. We have different soil, light, weather conditions. So my expectations were not particularly high for the local market, and it was o.k. Smaller than last year, and a little anemic, though I did find some beautiful triple creme cheese with apricots and almonds that was amazingly delicious. We ripped it open, slathered it on water crackers and practically ate the entire chunk standing at the kitchen counter. 

Now for the boxes. Coming home to a house filled with packed boxes that need to be emptied overwhelms me with fatigue. This is the most difficult hurdle of all. Getting back into the swing of children's schedules and school necessities is "child's play"  compared to this. How do people cope with unpacking moving boxes? How would a French woman cope with the unpacking and organizing of hundreds of boxes. Those bastions of efficiency and energy would certainly not allow boxes to sit around for weeks collecting dust and above all, looking ugly.   One friend says attack it head on, get it over with, then on with your life. Another's advice is one box a day – it's not so miserable. I would love some advice on this.

August 2, 2010

I wake up in the shape of an upside down question mark and can't move. Oh, I see. It is due to two children in my bed, one on either side of me. There is snoring coming from the floor. My oldest has placed himself there sometime during the night. Re-entry after six weeks in France is not going to be easy.

Upon return the children all felt our house was tooo big after living in a sardine can for four weeks. Just goes to show the affects of environment even in the short term. The house does feel cavernous, but that is because it is empty. We moved a month before leaving and half the boxes have yet to be unpacked. Uggghhhhh…..

Ice. Being dry and parched from my jet lagged sleep I reach for a cold glass of anything and realize I can pull out ice. Ice is a great luxury in France. Restaurants rarely serve it and our apartment did not have a freezer – big surprise. The refrigeration systems there are teeny tiney dollhouse size, and electricity  chuggs along in what seem to be limited amounts in the old buildings of the Marais. Ice is a welcome friend.

Bread. Wandering through the grocery store yesterday in a bit of a culture shock stupor I was at a loss as  what to buy. The bread aisle  looked  cartoonish ,  filled with Disney-like bundles of plastic. At the corner boulangerie in Paris the smell of fresh bread wafted in the windows in the morning and by afternoon their  shelves were empty. And it was DELICIOUS. Chewy in that perfect way, rolling with flavor. The bread here looks about as appealing as eating a sponge.

Cheese. Well, maybe I'll purchase some cheese. That was a mistake.

Olives.  Love olives. Always have. One of the tastiest concoctions we had in Paris was a thin crusted pizza on the Champs-Elysees with cheese, tiny capers and olives. It was sublime. That is one recipe I will try to recreate. The olive selection here is all in bottles, but there is a nice olive salad in the deli that looks fresh. We will have one of those please.

Fruit. Generic and  industrial looking. The berries at the local market in Provence were still warm from being picked. This fruit looks like it's been hermetically sealed in a vast refrigeration system. This was getting depressing. I picked up a peach, hard as a rock and ice cold. Eww.

Why is our food so disgusting? Perusing our local grocery store is a viewing of food like substances with very little real food.Not a novel discovery but  visually shocking when coming from such a different food experience for my family. Summers with my grandparents when was a child were a bounty of fresh produce picked everyday from their own garden. And it was absolutely delicious.  Sitting at the kitchen table chatting while munching on sliced green peppers and warm, sweet tomatoes was vividly recalled for me with the beautiful produce of Provence. The leisurely abundance of the Provencial markets was replaced with the fervor of Paris, but the food remained the same.

Change #1 – pay strict attention to what I feed my family and where it comes from. No more lip service. 

July 29, 2010

The service could not be worse. I am giving Laduree a second try before an early morning hair appointment. I stand by the sign telling the world to please wait to be seated. I wait for 8 minutes and am the only person in line. As two women blow past the sign and seat themselves it feels prudent to follow suite. There appears to be one person working/serving/ignoring the tea room on Rue Royal. She looks at me, then looks away. I walk into the less than half filled room and sit down at a table, taking note of several sticky, dirty cup rings. Five minutes pass and a woman appears, asking me something in French. I don't even make an effort.

 "Do you speak English?" . 

"How many people are sitting here?"


 "This table is for four."

"Where would you like me to sit?"

She points half-heartedly to the next table over. 


I wait another ten minutes for someone to take my order. A man appears. 

"Are you ready?'

"I've been ready for 20 minutes."

I am served a not particularly great cup of coffee and four pastries that could be gathered at a Residence Inn breakfast buffet.

 What brought me back you might ask? Pure nostalgia and love of the macaroon. I adore macaroons. Each little bite is a scrumptious burst of flavor, light, airy yet somehow chewy. The colors are divine with a highly imaginative assortment of yummy flavors. Then there is the nostalgia. My first encounter with Laduree was 20 years ago on my honeymoon where I fell head over heels into enchantment. It was early spring, brisk outside, warm and bubbling in. The tea salon was chock full of chic and stunning patrons. Particularly appealing was that so many of them were mothers, daughters and utterly adorable granddaughters. It was a Parisian paradise, American in Paris in vivid, breathing technicolor. 

That experience has never been close to recreated.

This summer I finally brought my mother to Laduree. The decor looked shabby, ignored and in need of grooming. The room no longer sat with its back straight up against the chair but had developed the American slouch. Our service was god-awful, beyond rude. It was hot and there was barely any ventilation. My enthusiasm did not completely dim so we ordered omelets and a club sandwich (my five year old was with us) and had an enjoyable time. Unfortunately, my daughter was not with us. The plan was for her to meet up with us with her dad and brother, who was, as usual, running behind  by two hours. But that's another story. As we were leaving our unhurried group arrived. Long story short, (well, relatively) ~ while indulging in reverie at my favorite bookstore in the world – Galignani – I receive two phone calls from my husband complaining about Laduree. Our daughter doesn't know what to order, there is nothing she likes on the menu. This strikes me as odd.  She is very easy to please in a restaurant and almost never complains. Next call, our son wants salmon, should we get it here?

When husband and said children arrive later at Galignani my daughter tells me how much she dislikes macaroons. Oh well.

C'est la vie.   


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