July 23, 2014

“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer …” 
I’m humming this vintage anthem to summer in my head as I wish you all safe and pleasant upcoming August afternoons–with a nod to Nat King Cole for the catchy song.
In addition to renting a little sailboat to sail on the pond, you might occupy children with the marionette puppet shows, pony rides, carousel, playground and sandbox in the Luxembourg Gardens.  Top off these activities with ice cream or other treat and you’ve had a kid-perfect day in Paris!
August afternoon

Wine and Summertime

Ah, wine.  I thought I knew a bit about wine before I moved to France fourteen years ago.  Little did I suspect how much more I had to learn.  I’d participated in a dozen wine-tasting events in the US.  I knew about grape varieties and ordered Cabernet Sauvignons and Pinot Noirs and Merlots.  But that was not how my new French neighbors spoke of wine.  No, sir.  They spoke not of the cépage (grape varietals), but of the terroir (the region where the wine is produced).

They ordered Burgundies and Bordeaux and Côtes du Rhônes, using the names of the major wine-producing regions.

And to speak of the region, or terroir, was to summon all they knew of the “flavor” of the land:  the qualities of the soil; the usual amount of rain; the average number of sunny days and thunderstorms; the range of temperatures and typical humidity during the growing season; the knowledge and care and skill and years of experience of the region’s main wine producers; the timing of the harvest and whether the grapes were harvested in bunches all at once or were selected grape berry by grape berry, one by one, later in the season; even the wind–and how all these factors influenced the flavor and quality of the wines.  I have learned so much, and this new-found knowledge increased my appreciation of wine immensely.

Today’s post is not meant to be a wine lesson, though.  I capture here, below, my first 17-syllable impression of the passion for wine I found among most of my French acquaintances and friends … my “ah-ha” moment when I first appreciated all that had gone into the making of a very fine wine.

When I savor wine now, I often think of one of my fourteen summers in France–where we ventured and what we discovered–and the bottles we brought back from every region, now lining the walls of the cellar, or la cave.  Only our photos top these dusty-musty bottles as our favorite souvenirs.

I would love to see your 17-syllable impressions of good wine!  Will you accept the challenge?  

Wine at cafe

June 18, 2014

Even the Water Fountains in Paris Are Beautiful!

Although it’s been cool in Paris for mid-June, the temperatures will rise eventually. And when they do, everyone will need more water. So, what will you do for a cool (free) drink while exploring, shopping, walking the (thirsty) dog, or out for a run? Here’s an idea: head for the nearest Wallace fountain. You’ll find them all over the city, Sir Richard Wallace’s namesake cast iron fountains.

These veritable Paris icons, designed by Charles-Auguste Lebourg, were installed in the 1870s out of concern for both hygiene and access to affordable, potable water for everyone, including the homeless. Their installation was initially financed by the wealthy, English philanthropist, Sir Richard Wallace. He called Paris home for many years, and is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

The most recognizable model (shown below) is tall, with an ornate dome-like top, supported by four lithe ladies in draped clothing, called “caryatids.” Not goddesses, but more like muses, the four caryatids represent Kindness, Simplicity, Charity and Sobriety. The water is fresh, potable, cold. Fill up, slurp, and splash! In days gone by, pewter cups hung on chains to aid in taking a gulp. They were removed in 1952 as more hygienic sensibilities took hold. It’s common now to see thirsty-types “going green” by refilling their reusable water bottles or canteens.

Most (but not all!) of the Wallace fountains are painted the same dark green chosen by Napoleon III to provide unity for ubiquitous, repetitive urban installations (such as benches, lampposts, kiosks, Morris columns, water fountains, etc.). They also have decorative details with aquatic themes: dolphins, fish, shells, tridents. Look more closely, next time!

Do you enjoy discovering esoteric little gems in the cities you travel to? Ever wonder how millions of urban dwellers almost miraculously receive millions of gallons of fresh water to their taps everyday? I recommend the little Pavillon de l’Eau exhibit space operated by the Paris water department. You’ve already seen the sewers!

Although the exhibits are in French, the excellent graphics (photography, charts, diagrams), displays and models tell their stories well even without words—from ancient Gallo-Roman times to the present, this is where and how Paris gets its water. The catalog of the 2012-13 exhibit on Paris’s fountains is here for viewing and downloading; pages 19-21 feature the Wallace fountains’ history; a map of their placement around the city is on pages 4-5.

And now the 17-syllable, “ah-ha!” moment captured in a haiku:

Haiku Wallace Fountain

May 23, 2014

Summertime is just around the corner!  Time to catch some rays … Parisian style.

Parisians enjoy their city gardens and parks year-round, but especially in late spring and early summer.  Sunbathing and napping in the gardens and parks is seen as healthy and stress-reducing.  Two little details catch my attention almost every time I stroll through these green havens.

The first:  In two of the larger gardens, the Luxembourg and the Tuileries, there are sturdy steel chairs painted green to sit in.  Although quite heavy (in spite of their thin-looking legs), most folks will drag a chair to a choice spot and then often drag a second one over to the first to use as a footrest.  Then comes the precise orientation of the chairs to receive the most benefit from the sun.  As the day wears on, subsequent sunbathers will re-position the chairs to align with the sun as though they were human sunflowers.

The second:  Rather than paving over every inch with asphalt, Parisians seem to  prefer leaving the garden paths and other ground surfaces bare or a bit rustic, with just a thin layer of chalky gravel over the dirt.  And, while I do respect this idea, it causes me much consternation when I exit the garden and notice my shoes.  Covered with tenacious chalky dust from the gravel, my black shoes are now dusty gray and will require brushing and rinsing to recover.  Don’t sport your new Jimmy Choo’s in Paris gardens!

I was initially inspired to write this:  “Heliotropes doze / Splayed across spindly-legged chairs / Stick out dusty shoes.”  But when I gave my photographer this assignment in August, there were only bare feet propped up on those green footrests!  How clever I felt when I devised a more appropriate five-syllable ending!

In a second haiku, I play with the form and tweak the syllable count–experiments very common among haiku poets today, writing in languages other than Japanese.

The happy result:


Love’s Locks Lost

Loving the bridges of Paris to death?

At first it seems so romantic … holding hands, sharing a kiss, pledging love together on one of Paris’ lovely bridges, writing your initials on a little brass lock, securing this seemingly harmless token to the bridge, then tossing the key into the Seine River below.

If this just happened only rarely it might not be a problem.  But trends catch on quickly in the most visited city in the world and now possibly millions of little locks are weighing down the bridges, becoming an eyesore to local Parisians, and spreading to other structures, causing damage.  What’s a city to do?

Subject right now of much debate, Paris city hall is struggling to find an answer.  The tourist office wants visitors to love the city (there has even been a recent campaign to instruct those in the tourist service industry how to be nicer), but not love it to death.  (Here’s one recent article.)

Before the locks are banned and photos of lock-laden bridges become history (my prediction), here is my 17-syllable ode to the practice, born of good intentions, but proof that you really can have too much of a good thing:


May 6, 2014

Say it with flowers!

Mother’s Day is coming up soon!  Can’t go wrong with a bouquet of flowers!  Paris florist shops are nothing if not glorious.  French florists take pride in their unique, artistic, floral creations.  Some shops display row-upon-row of seasonal varietals neatly arranged in buckets, while other shops might prefer rustic, country or cottage “looks” to their displays.

Floral gifts:  Always an appropriate gift for your mother, your lover, your dinner hostess, your in-laws, or your grandmother on Sunday!  Of course, you can buy them for yourself, too.  Buy a ready-made bouquet or select your own stems with the florist’s help.  You will always be asked whether it’s a gift, so the florist can select the correct wrapping:  Pour offrir?  C’est un cadeau?  If you say “oui,” then the gift packaging (un paquet cadeau) will often include a piece of colored tissue inside the clear plastic wrap, secured with a pretty ribbon tied in a bow, and the florist’s business card (or label) attached to the top.


Busy months ahead:  I am about to embark on a busy couple of months with lots of travel to and fro, so my blog posts will be regular (when I don’t forget), but quite brief—perhaps just the haiku with its photo, the way I started this blog back in October 2013.  I may occasionally refer to these as “haiga.”

Haiga:  When traditional haiku poets in Japan add a few brush strokes to enhance the effect of a haiku (a frog, a blossom, a bird, branch or mountain, for example), the work is called “haiga.”  A number of modern “haikuists,” many living outside of Japan and writing in other languages, now also use photography to heighten the effect of their tiny poems—and call them “haiga,” too.

Here’s my “haiga” post for this week, then, which I hope will remind my photographer and his brother that Sunday is Mother’s Day in the US!

Haiku Florists