First Things First!

(Part One:  Mostly Non-Food Tips)

What you need to know on your first trip to France …

I have welcomed dozens of house-guests into my home over the 16+ years I have lived in France.  Many were well-travelled, having been to myriad countries outside of the US and North America, as well as to numerous states in the US.  A handful, however, were European “newbies” and, thus, had lots of questions, and a few anxieties, about their first time being across The Atlantic.  Being out of their element and wanting to avoid embarrassing faux pas, they naturally needed to know how things are different from back home.  Through this experience, I have learned to tell my “newbie” guests these things on their very first day:

Yes, You Can Drink the Tap Water

Although you might not be able to guess this by watching my French neighbors buying stockpiles of bottled spring water at the grocery store, you can drink the safe and frequently-tested tap water in France.  Many French buy bottled water for its taste and mineral content.  The water is safe to drink almost everywhere in western Europe.  Because the water from desalination plants makes the tap water taste “funny” on Malta, however, most residents drink bottled water there, even though the tap water is safe.

To encourage Parisians to drink more tap water, the city’s water utility company has informative exhibits on how Paris gets its water at its visitor center (popular with local teachers and their classes).  Add this to your list of little-known-but-interesting places to see on your next trip.  Before leaving, snap up one of the charming Made-in-France carafes and serve your own tap water in your authentic “Eau de Paris” carafe d’eau when you get back home.  The carafes sport cute designs (the Paris skyline and monuments, for example) and make practical souvenirs.  The visitor center is free; the carafes are 10 Euros each.  Link:

Say “Bonjour” First … ALWAYS!

You are polite back home, of course.  You often greet people with “Good morning” or “Hello” before asking questions; but at other times, just your smile, tone of voice, word choice, demeanor, or eye contact with a little tilt of the head is enough of a polite greeting or acknowledgement before asking questions or soliciting assistance.  Not so in France!  There’s just one way to be polite with shopkeepers, new acquaintances and strangers: “Bonjour!”  Even more polite is “Bonjour, Madame” or “Bonjour, Monsieur.”  Practice before you get on the plane, so you are ready when you land.  Follow up with practicing excusez-moi, pardon, s’il vous plait, merci, merci beaucoup, au revoir, bonsoir, bonne journée and bonne soirée … and then pack your bags.  Greet every shopkeeper as you enter his or her establishment with “Bonjour!”  Wherever you travel, using good local manners will make your interactions with residents more pleasant.  Your mom and your kindergarten teacher told you so!

You May Need to Pay to Pee

It can be challenging to find a public restroom while wandering the streets of Paris.  But cafés, brasseries, and bars are everywhere.  Pop into one, order un café (it’s cheapest at the bar, if they have one), and then go find les toilettes.  At some establishments, you’ll need to get a little jeton (token) to put into the lock-box on the toilet door.  Private restaurant “water closets” are for customers only; you pay to pee by buying a cup of coffee.  Some parks, shopping malls and department stores make you pay to pee now, too—but that also means they are attended, clean and well-stocked with the necessities.  This is a good reason to get a few Euros from an ATM soon after arrival; look for one in the airport.

Unisex Bathrooms Are Normal

There are many unisex restrooms in France.  The bathrooms inside your own home are all unisex, but you aren’t used to sharing them with complete strangers, of course!  Even when separate stalls are marked for men and women, in many restrooms the handwashing area is shared by all.  If a woman comes into the restroom and finds her designated stall already in use, don’t be surprised if she ducks into an empty men’s stall, and sometimes vice versa—which means no one will mind if you do it, too.  When in Rome, and all that.  Oh, and locate the light switches on the stall wall upon entering, so when the timer turns the light off you aren’t fumbling in the dark for too long!  Reflect on what a great energy-saving feature this is while fumbling.

Taxes and Tips Are Already Included in the Prices

The price tags on merchandise already include the taxes.  And, in restaurants, prices on the menus already include both the taxes and the tip (usually 15%).  You don’t need to leave extra, although many folks round the bill up to the nearest Euro or leave a few coins.  Americans will often leave an extra 5%, but it’s OK if you don’t.

Don’t Handle the Produce in the Market Stalls

In regular grocery stores, you select your own produce, and then bag it and weigh it yourself. The market merchants do this for you in most open-air markets.  It is rude to handle, squeeze and sniff the food there!  Market vendors consider themselves experts on the fresh produce and other foods they sell, and are proud of their offerings and service to their customers.  Ask questions, yes, but please don’t touch.  This holds true for the antiquarian booksellers or bouquinistes who operate out of those dark green, clam-shell stalls perched on the walls along the Seine—it’s best to ask to handle the old prints, books and papers … just in case.  Even better:  ask to handle only if you really intend to buy something!

Carry a Reusable Shopping Bag

France is moving away from wasteful and polluting, single-use, plastic bags and encouraging everyone to carry their own reusable bags.  I carry “stuffable,” washable nylon ones.  If you are not offered a bag for your purchases (very common now), and you don’t have any with you, just ask for them and you will be charged a nominal fee per bag for what you need.  The cashiers have a stash to sell you.

In Part Two, I will address some basic food tips “newbies” should have before venturing into their first Paris restaurant.  And, now for the haiku:


Wandering from home …

Step in the right direction

To avoid faux pas 


Market Day

It’s market day in my French town.  And that makes the day special, even if it is a weekly occurrence.

While somewhat similar to farmers’ markets found in many US and Canadian towns, the regular street markets in French towns and Paris arrondissements (administrative districts) are more like public services provided and supervised by local town councils for the benefit of a town’s or district’s residents.  They are integral to local social life, and necessary for many who do not have cars (whether by choice, or not).  Markets are also perfect for single folk and the elderly who might want to buy only one or two carrots, one or two apples, a slice of cheese, an onion, and a single steak hache (fresh ground-beef patty)–small portions that are difficult to find in the grocery stores.

In my town, about 20 minutes west of Paris, the market days are Friday and Sunday.  The Friday market is quiet and business-like.  The Sunday market is boisterous and sociable, with the sidewalk cafes over-filled in good weather and lots of neighbors chatting as they stand patiently in line for fresh fish and vegetables, oysters, small-producer cheeses, roast chicken, Greek and Middle-Eastern delicacies, seasonal fruits, bunches of herbs, shoes and socks, bed and table linens, house-ware gadgets, bouquets of flowers, and more.  Conviviality reigns and everyone fills their baskets and totes with lunch and dinner provisions.

Strollers, foot-powered scooters, wheelchairs, and dogs on leashes are all welcome along the town’s main street, where the collapse-and-store market stalls go up and down twice per week.  No one is in a hurry.  There is a surge to the crowd after mass ends at the Catholic church around the corner.  At 1:00 pm, the vendors repack their vans with the unsold goods, and a few “gleaners” pick bruised fruit from the refuse piles.  The town cleaning crew arrives to take down and store the rather ingenious market stall frames and roofs, then removes the trash and sweeps and washes the sidewalks where the bustling market stood just an hour earlier.  The hosing prevents anything from rotting and smelling on the streets.  By 4:00 pm you can walk down the street and not realize it had been market day at all–rarely even detecting the tiniest telltale odor at the spot where the fishmonger had stood.

We walk to market almost every week, whether or not we need food or intend to buy anything–just for the pleasure of it and the exercise.  I miss the days when the kids were at home and we all walked together; now it’s just me and the hubby on our strolls.  It’s one of my favorite aspects of life in France, and one that our sons remember with fondness, too.  And, the haiku to mark the day:


cold Sunday morning–

market baskets all swinging

to ringing church bells

 (P.S. There are websites that list the markets in every region of the country, giving their addresses and hours, and specialties, if any.  Here’s a good one for Paris: )


Joyeux Noël and Bonnes Fêtes!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

It’s Christmas in France (and Hanukkah, too, this year!).  Under the Christmas tree (sapin de Noel) the crèche scene is now complete, as the baby Jesus made his appearance there at midnight last night, Christmas Eve.  Sleeping in later than usual this morning, after over-indulging on long evening dinners of smoked salmon, oysters and foie gras last night (finished with beautiful log-shaped, frosted cakes called bûche de Noël, decorated with miniatures of forest or lumberjack or North Pole scenes), my neighbors will eventually all be out strolling along the Seine this afternoon.  They will be impeccably dressed and out enjoying fresh air with their parents, grandparents, babies and dogs.

In the Paris cafes that are open to serve tourists on Christmas, you can enjoy some vin chaud and hot chocolate.  Try the various roast poultry and fowl, with chestnuts if possible, for lunch or dinner.  Buy a little sack of roasted chestnuts from the street vendors roasting them over round charcoal stoves.  Enjoy the decorated windows, and the fresh pine garlands that encircle doorways.

I do not find the “touristy” Paris Christmas markets particularly interesting, but they can provide a destination point for a nice promenade in good weather, and any young children you have in tow will find them attractive. If you’re in the Alsace-Lorraine region, however, then these Christmas markets are “must-sees,” as they are authentic in this region and stocked with higher-quality goods and food.  If you have a couple of days, take a train to Strasbourg for an authentic treat!  You’ll need a car or bus tour to explore the smaller, charming towns in the Alsace region (Colmar, Eguisheim, Riquewihr, and Kaysersberg, to name a few of my favorites), but the train to Strasbourg is easy and quick. Unlike the German Christmas markets, which all close on or before Dec. 24, the larger French ones stay open through New Year’s.  Go, if you can. And, now for the haiku to mark the season:


Signs of the season

On the hearth and on our plates

Yule logs ev’rywhere



The Little Joys of Late Summer

Whew!  I made it.  I arrived home from my wonderful tour of China just in time for mirabelle season in France!  It’s late August and fresh mirabelles are appearing in the open-air markets.   Mirabelle tarts fill the pastry shop windows; mirabelle jams cram the shelves in the grocery stores.  Myriad bottles of eau-de-vie de mirabelle will be on sale soon.

What are mirabelles, you ask?  A reason to visit France in late August!  These little yellow plums (the size of a large olive) have a short season and are limited in availability.  They’re colorful, soft, sweet, fragrant, flavorful and perfect.  Grown mainly in the Lorraine region of France and loved by everyone, they will disappear quickly!

If you’re in Paris, or anywhere in France, during mirabelle season, get a bagful at the market and try the tarte aux mirabelles if offered for dessert in a restaurant.  Then, duck into a grocery store and buy a jar of mirabelle jam to take home as a souvenir!  Or, better, buy two!

I have a friend whose country-house property in Normandy has a mirabelle tree and I have harvested these little joys of late summer in the traditional manner there—by shaking the tree branches and catching the ripe mirabelles in a blanket spread under the tree.  And now a haiku (in modern form) to mark the season:


late summer–

the fruits of our labors

ripe enough to eat

mirabelles photo

Happy May Day! 

The first of May is Labor Day (la Fête du Travail) in France, a holiday.  The day honors the work of all workers, and is similar to Labor Day observed on the first Monday of September in the United States.  Because it falls on a Sunday this year (2016), many French workers will get Monday off; some businesses and most government offices will be closed.  Check that your intended destination will be open before you set out!

The first of May is also a traditional day to wish happiness or bonheur to anyone you are visiting.  In France, a sprig of Lily-of-the-Valley is considered a good-luck charm, or un porte-bonheur.  Offering your friends or family members a sprig of Lily-of-the-Valley (un brin de muguet) on May Day is one of my favorite French traditions.

The tradition goes back as far as the first day of May in 1561, when someone offered King Charles IX of France un brin de muguet as un porte-bonheur and he decided to offer them to the ladies of his court every May Day after that.  Other typical French lucky charms are four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, and lady bugs.

How lucky I felt ten years ago, when we bought a house in France, to discover that the tiny white bells of this little lily sprouted up from their slumbering bulbs right outside our new front doorstep in late April, ready to pick on May 1st.  Fresh sprigs pack quite a punch for such a small flower.  One sprig fills a room with the delicate scent for a week.

May Day Memories

Lily-of-the-Valley grew under my bedroom window when I was young, and it bloomed just about the time it was warm enough to open the window on sunny afternoons for a breath of fresh spring air.  It was my mom’s favorite fragrance–and the Avon lady knew it!

The sale of flowers and other goods on the streets and sidewalks is regulated in France, but officials will normally look the other way for May Day and the sale of muguet.  Many people will offer sprigs for sale and it’s generally considered tolerable for you to buy them from anyone on the few days around May 1st.

In the May Days of my childhood in Minnesota, my sisters and I made May Day baskets from empty milk cartons and construction paper, filling them with “flowers” made from tissue paper and pipe cleaners.  Then early in the morning on May 1st, we’d hang our home-made baskets on the doorknobs of our neighbors’ houses, ring their doorbells, and run like crazy to hide!

In other countries, there are “May poles” to dance around to welcome spring, or bonfires to celebrate the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.  (Read about “Beltane,” a Celtic celebration, in Wikipedia, for example.)    May our merry-month-of-May traditions never wither!   Wishing you happiness on May Day.  And now for a pair of haiku—one for Mom, and one for Paris:


The fragrance of May

From tiny white bells–

Reminding me of home


In his coat pockets–

Sprigs of little white lilies

And crusty baguettes


Haiku, Paris, and Black History Month—

All Come Together in Richard Wright!

When I started writing haiku seriously about two and a half years ago, I searched for haiku books to help me learn.  My query brought up numerous English translations of Japanese haiku written by the four renowned old masters:  Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki.  Then there were the how-to-haiku handbooks and modern collections and anthologies by members of various haiku societies.  There were also over a dozen children’s books using the “traditional” haiku form to tell a tale or teach about the seasons.

Then, there was a big surprise!  Richard Wright (1908-1960), the author of Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945), Uncle Tom’s Children (1938) and Twelve Million Black Voices (1941), among many other works, had a large collection of haiku published posthumously in 1998.  The surprise got even better—Mr. Wright had written all of them when he lived in France!  I ordered a copy immediately.  (See HAIKU: The Last Poems of an American Icon, by Richard Wright; Arcade Publishing, New York, c1998.)

I was encouraged by his prolific haiku outpouring.  If such an esteemed literary figure, who wrote often about the African-American experience in the Deep South before the Civil Rights Movement, could suddenly embrace haiku and relish its elevation of the ordinary to the sublime—then haiku was a poetry genre worthy of my effort, too!

Healing Haiku

In the book’s introduction, written by his daughter, Julia Wright, we learn that haiku writing may have been a tonic, a respite, and a joy to this gifted writer whose health was declining, and who was grieving the loss of several people dear to him:  his beloved mother, Ella; his friend and favorite editor, Ed Aswell; and his good friend Richard Padmore.  Other unsettling events were unfolding in the last years of his life, too, including being embroiled in nasty Cold War politics stemming from his earlier connections with various Communist groups.

In the last 18 months of his life, unable to write longer works due to his failing health, Richard Wright wrote more than 4000 haiku and left his personal selection of 817 of them in a manuscript for his editor.  His daughter writes in her introduction, “But writing these poems kept him spiritually afloat.”   The American writer, who had moved to Paris, France, in 1946, in self-exile, died there in 1960, at age 52.  He’s buried in Père Lachaise cemetery.

Almost all of his haiku are in the standard form taught at that time—in three lines of 5, then 7, then 5 syllables, with a seasonal reference.   I gobbled them up, recognizing vintage French country-scapes in poem after poem.  There were thunderstorms, blossoming fruit trees, cats, rats, dogs, snowflakes, horses, cows, crows and sunshine.  There are another 3200 unpublished haiku hiding in a Yale library that I hope will see the light of day someday, too.  In illness, being mindful of the natural beauty around him, Mr. Wright writes of wonder.

I read one review that suggested this haiku collection would have been more celebrated and appreciated if it had been published in 1960, soon after Mr. Wright’s death, when “5-7-5 haiku” were the accepted, unquestioned norm.  But, thirty-eight years later, in 1998, when it was finally published, the accepted form of English-language haiku had changed.

Due to the great structural differences between the Japanese and English languages, including how to count “sounds” or syllables in their words, serious haiku poets learned that, more often than not, a17-syllable English-language haiku was much longer than a Japanese-language haiku with 17 “sounds,” a few of which even act as voiced punctuation.  New standards for haiku writing in English evolved, so that by 1998, many of Wright’s haiku seemed a bit old-fashioned and long-winded to writers of more “modern” haiku.

Worth Your Time to Read

Oh, but there are gems here!  And there’s evidence that Mr. Wright knew when just enough was said to make a perfect haiku—without counting syllables.  He was a great wordsmith, after all.  Here are a few of my favorites:


Just enough of rain

To bring the smell of silk

From umbrellas.


Yet another dawn

Upon yellowing leaves

And my sleepless eyes.


Winter rain at night

Sweetening the taste of bread

And spicing the soup.


Last summer, my husband and I took a little “field trip” out to the tiny farming village of Ailly, in Normandy, where Mr. Wright had owned a country retreat.  Many of his haiku were so obviously written there.  Then we wandered around the serene “Le Moulin d’Andé” compound, once a cozy writers’ colony where Wright spent time with friends and fellow writers.

I stood at the edge of the mill pond and looked out over the water.  I paid my homage by imagining him here with his friends, in the prime of life, with his family, relaxed and appreciated and free.  The mill pond was teeming with life:  little fish and frogs, sunning turtles, ducks and singing birds, and dragonflies, bright blue ones.  And, of course, I wrote a haiku.


He stood here once …

Watching other dragonflies

On other lily pads.


I recommend HAIKU: The Last Poems of an American Icon, by Richard Wright; Arcade Publishing, New York, c1998.


The old writers' colony at "Le Moulin d'Andé" in Normandy, as it looks today, with its mill pond.

The old writers’ colony at “Le Moulin d’Andé” in Normandy, as it looks today, with its mill pond.


It’s La Fête de la Chandeleur (or Candlemas) Today!

And in France, That Means Crêpes!

It will be difficult to find a seat in a French crêperie today, February 2nd.  Families and groups of friends will be eating crêpes in restaurants, or at home; and crêpe parties are common among colleagues at the office, too.  Why?  Because it’s la fête de la Chandeleur, of course!  For Christians, the feast day marks the presentation of Jesus at the temple.

But why celebrate with crêpes, exactly?  A source of English-language news on France, “The Local,” enlightens us here:

While based originally on a religious observance involving the blessing of candles and candle-lit processions in churches, even the non-religious enjoy the fun of la Chandeleur crêpe-making traditions, and its associated good-luck game, too.  To play, hold a gold coin in your left hand while tossing and catching a crêpe in a frying pan with your right hand.  If you are successful, you will be rich in the coming year!

While crêpes with sweet fillings from stalls and open-window, take-away outlets in Paris make wonderful snacks and street-food, a perfect meal at a crêperie consists of a savory crêpe as your main course, a sweet one for dessert, and a bowl of cidre, or hard cider.   My favorite crêpe-on-the-run combination is banana with dark chocolate—it’s almost a meal replacement on a busy day!

A Typical Crêperie Meal

Main course:  The savory crêpes, called a galettes or galettes de sarrasin, are made with an unsweetened buckwheat flour batter, and are available with numerous combinations of meats, veggies, cheeses and sauces, often topped with an egg, if you wish.  You’ll typically find ham, tuna, chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, mushrooms, cheese and ratatouille among your choices.

Dessert:  The sweet crêpes, called crêpes de froment, are made from a slightly sweetened wheat flour batter, and are offered with choices such as butter and sugar, salty-butter caramel, berries, whipped cream, chocolate, jams (or confitures), banana, and a hazelnut-chocolate spread (often Nutella), among many others.

Beverage:  The traditional beverage to enjoy with crêpes is chilled cidre, a “hard” apple cider with alcohol content similar to beer.  The brut versions are drier and have slightly higher alcohol content than the sweeter doux versions.  Some restaurants offer it in pitchers, while others offer it only in full bottles.

And, now for the haiku, of course!

B&W gargoyles haiku

Crepe-maker 2012


The Best French Pastry You’ve (Possibly) Never Heard of—La Galette des Rois!  (You’re Going to Have an Epiphany …)

The French know about and crave these round, buttery, flaky, almond-paste-filled creations, of course, and so do all expatriates living in France, but tourists and business people just passing through may miss them completely.  So, I think these traditional “Kings’ Cakes” made for the feast of the Epiphany (celebrated on January 6) constitute one of the best kept secrets of French gastronomie!

Because les galettes des rois appear for only about 4-6 weeks in the winter (roughly mid-December to the end of January), they cannot be experienced by the throngs that visit Paris and France any other time of year.  Their appearance with plain-looking, brown crusts probably cause most winter tourists to pass over them, too, in favour of the fancier pastries filling every pastry shop display case.  The flat cakes are most often sold whole, in sizes that can be divided into 4-10 portions, so finding just one slice to try can be tricky.  When you do find one, though, please have it warmed up before eating!  Although some folks might say they are good cold, they approach sublime when heated in an oven, and only then will the almond and butter fragrance waft from the wedges—fully half the experience in my book!

I blogged about the whole Kings’ Cake experience (including collecting the hidden fêves and playing the traditional game to win the gold paper crown) in February 2015 here:

Everyone gets into the act:  co-workers will share them in the office; friends will get together just to share one; kids at school often make them in class; families welcome the chance to stretch the holidays just a little longer with this tiny celebration, usually washed down with “hard” apple cider (the drier brut has a slightly higher alcohol content than the sweeter doux), or sometimes Champagne.  In tea salons, you may wish to have a warm slice with coffee or tea, of course.  Are you after a ‘real’ French experience?  You just found one!

David Lebovitz has an excellent recipe for making them at home (so easy!), so now you have no excuse not to discover these for yourself if you missed them on your last trip to France; here it is:   The almond-crème or frangipane filling is traditional, but some pastry chefs are experimenting with new fillings, too.

Although I’m reposting last year’s photo, I also wrote a new 17-syllable haiku:


What temptation hides

Beneath these plain brown wrappers?

Sinfully good taste!


Haiku Galettes des Rois Montorgueil

Dec. 31, 2015

Bonne Année!  Et Meilleurs Voeux en 2016! 

(Happy New Year!  And Best Wishes in 2016!)

Whew!  If possible, shopping on New Year’s Eve day for everything you need for your evening celebration is worse than Christmas Eve!  The market vendors scramble to satisfy their harried customers.  Holiday market days in France are bustling family affairs with babies in strollers, dogs on leashes, grandparents with canes, and neighbors greeting one another with kisses on the cheek.  Almost everyone is out to buy something special for their evening repast.  Here’s what filled the market baskets in my town, 20 minutes west of Paris:

Oysters, fresh fish and lemons; foie gras and nut-studded breads; Boudin blanc sausages and various fattened fowl; platters of at least five assorted cheeses, bien sûr; and candied chestnuts; a belated bûche de Noël or an early galette des rois–and, of course, Champagne!  Rounding out the shopping spree were fancy chocolates and bouquets of flowers.  Whether going out in style, or staying in to watch movies and finish this year’s 1000-piece puzzle, the New Year’s Eve meal in France is paramount.

My family is more often than not the “staying in” type and we’re ready with food and movies and “Bananagrams!”   And, we’re making resolutions, too.  In 2016, I hereby resolve to renew my blogging efforts and post more often and regularly!

In France, the custom is to wish everyone you see “Bonne Année!” when you see them for the first time in the New Year–but NOT before!  Before New Year’s Day, it’s usually Joyeuses Fêtes or Happy Holidays.  Since the French send many more New Year’s greeting cards than Christmas ones, most folks will be sending their “Meilleurs Voeux” (Best Wishes) for a wonderful New Year all through January.  (TIP:  A tourist here might find picking up a box of these New Year’s greeting cards a fun, unique and thoughtful souvenir to take back home and send to friends during January—you can’t get a souvenir more “authentic” than that!)

I wish peace, happiness, health and prosperity to you all in 2016.  Happy New Year!


February 5, 2015

Get them while they last!  Going, going …

What delights can be found inside plain brown wrappers! I’m speaking of French pastries, of course—specifically the seasonal Galette des Rois.  Hidden inside the round, golden brown, rather “plain Jane,” shiny, flaky, buttery crusts is (usually) frangipane, the traditional almond cream filling of les galettes des Rois, or the Kings’ Cakes.  And, something else, too—a fêve! This will probably be the last week you can still find une galette des Rois in Paris pastry shops, until they reappear next December.  Normally a specialty made for celebrating Epiphany, observed on January 6, I see this treat appear earlier and earlier each year—and stay around later and later, too.  I have discovered Kings’ Cake as early as the first week of Advent and continue to find them through the week of La Fête de la Chandeleur, celebrated on February 2nd.   For good reason!!

The Cake:  A centuries-old tradition, with regional variations and changes over time, certainly, today’s cakes are melt-in-your-mouth delicious—flaky, buttery crusts on the outside and crumbly-yet-creamy almond paste on the inside.  Best served warm, the fragrance emanating from the oven as they bake is half the reason I love them.  To make a terrific one at home, I suggest trying this recipe from acclaimed “foodie” author and professional pastry chef, David Lebovitz: Remaining little-known among the throngs of tourists who visit Paris each year (because of their winter-only appearance and being overshadowed by row upon row of more colourful and fancy pastries), they are loved by the French and all of the expatriates I know who call France at least their temporary home.  It is the one French treat both of my sons ask for when they’re home for the holidays.  Seek them out if your future travel plans bring you to Paris in the wintertime; you’ll be glad you did.  And now to explain that fêve!

The Fêve:  Originally, the fêve, a “broad bean,” was a real bean hidden inside the Kings’ Cake, placed there for a game.  The game is still played, but the beans started to be replaced by miniature porcelain figures in the late 18th century; and by about 1870, the replacement was nearly complete.  At first, they were one-inch porcelain figures of the baby Jesus, except for a short period during the French Revolution when anti-religion revolutionaries declared the treat a “galette de l’Egalité,” and replaced the baby Jesus with a little porcelain “bonnet phrygien,” a red cap that symbolized The Revolution.  Now there are Disney movie and comic book characters; miniature animals, household items, cars, and more—whole sets of themed fêves to collect, new ones every year.  I confess to having whole sets of characters from the “Lord of the Rings” movies, for example.  Collecting fêves is serious business!  Here’s one example of the numerous websites devoted to this hobby:

The Game:  If you try the cake, try the traditional game, too!  Ask the youngest child in the family to sit under the table and designate who receives each slice as the server puts them on the plates.  The person who finds the fêve in his or her slice is king or queen for the day, chooses a consort to rule with him or her, and receives the gold-colored paper crown commonly sold with the cake (or, make your own crown at home!).  The newly-crowned monarch rules for the day, giving (hopefully good-natured!) orders to all family members who join in the make-believe fun.

How to capture all this in 17–or fewer–syllables??

Frangipane fragrance 

Wafting warm from the oven—

Who will win the crown?

Galette des Rois 2014 2015     Photo of the historic Stohrer pastry shop at 51 rue Montorgueil, by Eric Hian-Cheong,

August 15, 2014

Still enough summer left for a picnic or two! 

A quintessential summer joy, picnicking can be enjoyed by almost anyone, within any budget.  Parisians love picnics; and Paris is very “picnicable.”   Whether simple and impromptu with bohemian flair, or extravagant and well-organized with white linen, le picnic is très chic and tourists can join right in!

While parks and gardens are natural picnic spots, I zero-in today on one place where picnicking is especially popular among young and young-at-heart adults–the riverside quays around the western tip of the Ile Saint-Louis–and point you to a few shops nearby that can outfit you deliciously for a perfect Paris picnic.  (Families with young children, however, may want to pick safer, grassier locales away from the river banks.)

Instead of carrying all of your picnic provisions on the metro, try making the “treasure hunt” for your perfect picnic repast part of the day’s adventure and fun by buying what you need in the little shops on the island itself. (The closest metro stop is Pont Marie on Line 7.)

What will you find for your picnic basket?  Baguettes; all types of charcuterie including dried sausages (saucisson sec), pâtés, terrines, and rillettes (“potted” meats); hard and soft cheeses; butter, jams (les confitures), tapenades and other spreads; yogurts, fresh veggies and fruit; antipasti, cornichons (tiny gherkin pickles) and olives; water, wine and beer; and desserts.  If you forget a knife or a cork screw, there’s a shop for those as well!

There are several places to get bread and baguettes on the island.  Try Auvray Delices at 35 rue des Deux Ponts, which also has sandwiches, boxed salads, wonderful pastries and some soft drinks.  For fresh veggies, fruit and squeezed-while-you-wait orange juice bottled on site, go to green-grocer Les Vergers de L’île St-Louis at 23-25 rue des Deux Ponts.  There are several fromageries for cheeses, but the one still open in August is La Ferme Saint Aubin at 76 rue Saint-Louis-en-l’ile.  Some sandwiches and little savory quiches or tarts are on offer here, too.

If you are a true gourmet, however, take your picnic up a notch gastronomically and head to 38 Saint Louis at 38 rue Saint-Louis-en-L’île.  Specializing in small-producer delicacies and excellent wines, 38 Saint Louis is serious about good food, produced with care and pride.  The stock at this épicerie fine shop has been carefully and personally selected by the proprietors, one of whom, Thibault, told me that “food is our first medicine; we should put only good food into our bodies.”  This is the place to pick up chilled rosé wine (and good chilled beer), fresh antipasti, top-shelf charcuterie, farm-made fresh yogurts, and special cheeses.  The brebis from Corsican sheep I brought home was tasty, complex, sweet, and firm, but melt-in-your-mouth creamy and smooth on the tongue—excellent!

If you need some basics, there is a pair of convenience stores on the island; one of which is Le Marché des Iles at 19 rue des Deux Ponts.  And, if you forgot either a knife or corkscrew, stop in and treat yourself to a true Made-in-France, quality souvenir at Coutellerie Laguiole Paris, 35 rue des Deux Ponts.  They have a huge selection of pocket-knives and corkscrews made with rare artisan craftsmanship!   They are among my favorite French keepsakes, and practical to boot.

And last, but not least—dessert!  Although you could take a dessert along in your picnic basket, you might want to pack up, stretch your legs and take a leisurely walk around the island in search of … ice cream.  Almost no visit to the Ile Saint-Louis is complete without sampling Berthillon’s famous ice creams and sorbets (about 40 flavors each, with seasonal variations), at 29-31 rue Saint-Louis-en-l’ile.

Using only fresh milk, cream, sugar, eggs and natural flavors (vanilla bean, chocolate, fruits, spices, nuts, etc.), these are some of the finest frozen treats in Paris.  Taking their annual vacation in mid-summer, however, this ice cream parlor and tea salon is closed this year from July 27 to September 3.  Don’t despair!  At least half a dozen other outlets on the island sell Berthillon products, most right through windows in their storefronts.  (Note:  Raymond “Papi” Berthillon (1923-2014), the enterprise’s founder, passed away on August 9, at age 91.  I wish peace and sweet memories for his family.  I don’t think he’d mind the little pun.)

To sum up this perfect Paris picnic experience, I offer these 17 syllables:


Haiku Picnic

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

April 28, 2014


We finally got some much needed rain this weekend (it always seems to come on a weekend!).  The snails are happy.  The photographers were out hunting rainbows.  The pattering sound on my roof was comforting.

I have only one haiku so far that mentions rain in Paris (but it’s not about singing in it), so I thought I’d post that one this week.

The sheets of gray zinc used on the roofs of so many Paris buildings gives almost any view over the city’s rooftops a uniform and rhythmic quality.  Add in the rows of clay chimney pots and topmost windows (often with flower boxes full of bright geraniums overflowing the railings), the ubiquitous shutters and cream-colored building façades–and you have another “icon” of Paris:  its rooftops.  The patterned effect is charming.  They look even better when wet!

(Note:  My photographer son shot this photo looking out from the Chimera Gallery up on Notre Dame Cathedral.  Many people also enjoy the classic rooftop views seen from the top steps of Sacré Coeur.  You might have a favorite rooftop view from your own balcony!)

My 17-syllable impression is below.  I encourage you to give yours!

Haiku Rooftops 2

April 19, 2014

Snails:  alive, cooked & gilded!

It’s been dry for weeks in the Paris metropolitan area, in the region called “Ile-de-France.”  The spring flowers have been exceptional, however, due to the long, wet winter and mild temperatures.  To my delight, the dryness means the snails have stayed sealed and “glued” to their hideouts and not eaten much in the garden, yet.  But clouds are blowing in and rain has come and gone in short bursts.  If it rains tonight, the snails will be out to feast and drink.  And, “crunch.”

Ugh, how I hate that sound and the twinge of guilt I suffer when I accidentally step on one in the dark when I come home late.  Crunch … sorry!  I don’t like living snails …

And I’m not fond of the dead ones either, but many people enjoy a plate of them as an appetizer, my husband among them.  I believe that cooking almost anything in butter and garlic makes it palatable, even delicious, so I do understand how folks can eat them.  More for you if I abstain.

At number 38 Rue Montorgueil is a traditional French restaurant called L’Escargot, and it has over the door the biggest snail in Paris that I know of—it always makes me smile.  A gilded mini-monument.   At number 51 is Paris’ oldest pastry shop, Maison Stohrer, which opened in 1730, and is famous for its baba au rhum pastry.

Rue Montorgueil is a typical, lively market street.  Other market streets worth a visit include Rue Mouffetard, Rue Daguerre and Rue Cler.  All are wonderful to explore and shop in, but this charming snail and the historic pastry shop make Rue Montorgueil one of my favorites.

And now to sum it all up in 17 syllables:

Haiku Snails

April 7, 2014

Coffee, please!

You’re in Paris!  And you want to sit in a corner café and people-watch all day, so you order “un café, s’il vous plaît.”  A few minutes later an espresso arrives at your table.  H-m-m.  You were expecting something larger, weren’t you?  Something more substantial around which to wrap all ten of your cold fingers, so you could sip, and sip, and sip … and maybe channel your inner Hemingway.  You politely inform the waiter that you wanted “a coffee” and not “an espresso,” and the inevitable confusion ensues.

I remember my first time. It was a bit of a surprise.  How could someone sit at a table “all day” with just an ounce or two of espresso?  Ordering un café(or any drink) at a table in France means that you have sort of purchased the right to sit at that table until you are ready to leave, even if your beverage takes only a minute or two to consume.  There are no free refills, no bottomless pots.

If you want a bigger beverage, you will have to choose one of these other options:  un café Americano or un café allongé (two names for the same beverage, made by adding hot water to a shot of espresso to fill a larger cup); un café au lait  or un café crème (hot milk or cream added to an espresso shot); un cappuccino (typically a breakfast beverage, but now enjoyed more and more in the afternoons, too, with lots of steamed milk foam on top); un café filtré (rare; made in a drip-style machine with a large pot); or perhaps un café double (two espresso shots in the same cup).

Paradoxically, you will rarely see a “French press” coffee pot (un cafetière à piston), although they are used at home and sometimes presented to groups dining in hotels.  Waiters familiar with “intercultural coffee confusion” sometimes inquire about the size of the coffee you are expecting.  When I want un vrai café français, I’ll often reply to the thoughtful waiter (mistaking me for a café novice) that, yes, un espresso or un café normal would be perfect, merci.

Now, to distill this “haiku moment” into its 17-syllable essence:


Haiku Café Cups, rev


March 31, 2014

Today’s post includes pigeons, baguettes and bicycles—all in 17 syllables. Now, I enjoy urban “wild life” as much as the next person, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.  Pigeons fall into this category.  There are too many in Paris for my taste, and many Parisians feel the same way … to the point of calling them “flying rats!”

Although the observed behavior of a few Parisians might suggest otherwise, feeding the feral pigeons is illegal and subject to hefty fines.  Feeding causes overpopulation until the birds become messy, aggressive pests.  Pigeon poop damages statues and other monuments, makes park benches unusable, and is unsanitary (and slippery when wet!).

So, eat your baguette, but don’t share any with the pigeons!  Of course, if you carry your baguette home in your backpack, or sticking out of the saddle-bag or basket on your bicycle, the few crumbs that break off will be welcomed by our feathered friends.  Still raised as a hobby by enthusiasts, many are quite pretty.

To control, but not eliminate, the pigeon population, Paris has installed a number of pigeon coops in the city’s squares and parks. The birds readily nest in these and lay eggs (an average female can lay about six clutches per year)—the more food they get, the more eggs they lay.  City workers regularly enter the coops and vigorously shake all but one fertilized egg per nest.  The shaking renders the eggs infertile; leaving them in place reduces the number of clutches laid.  Pigeon couples, who mate for life, are allowed to raise only one “squab” at a time.  All in 17 syllables, below:


March 21, 2012

Macarons are everywhere in Paris, even at the McCafé in McDonald’s.  Yesterday, March 20, was the first day of spring and “Macaron Day,” too.  Started as a marketing gimmick by Pierre Hermé in 2006, macaron-makers are encouraged to celebrate “Macaron Day” by handing out free samples of their wares and giving a portion of the day’s proceeds to a charity.  Customers celebrate by, well, I think you can guess how they celebrate!

I enjoy a few macarons now and then, but I covet the rare ones that use only natural flavors and colors—no bright blue or lipstick red ones for me!  Chocolate, fruit and nut flavors are traditional, but almost every pastry chef has fun with more exotic ingredients, too, such as green tea (yes!), lavender (yes!), and liquorice (no, thank you!).  The all-natural ones have muted, earthy colors and delicate, subtle flavors and are usually less sweet.

But, what a feast for the eyes, no matter the ingredients!  The ones in the photo below (taken in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood) are good quality, but not the rarer, sought-after, all-natural ones that I love best.  Still, they draw me to the windows every time and I rarely resist the temptation to indulge.

Haiku Macarons

March 15, 2014

Continuing my “bookish” theme from last week’s post on les bouquinistes (the antiquarian book vendors along the quays of the Seine), this week’s post is also about books.

It’s almost obligatory for book lovers to stop in at Shakespeare & Company bookstore at 37 rue de la Bûcherie (in the Left Bank’s Latin Quarter, across the river from Notre-Dame), at least once during any visit to Paris.
This veritable institution has been at this location since its American expatriate founder, George Whitman (1913-2011), opened for business in 1951 under its original name, Le Mistral.  In 1964, George changed the name to Shakespeare & Company in honor of the “late great” Sylvia Beach (1887-1962), who had passed away about two years earlier.
Sylvia Beach opened the original Shakespeare & Company in 1919 at 8 rue Dupuytren, moving it to 12 rue de l’Odéon in 1921.  She published James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in 1922, securing her place in the history of literature and bringing fame to her establishment. But the shop experienced difficulties during the Great Depression and closed during the German occupation of Paris, shuttering for good in 1941. 
George’s reincarnation continued the spirit of the original in supporting and promoting new literary talent.  George’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman (named for, but no relation to, the older Sylvia Beach), operates the shop today.
Nestled in its cozy corner, with outdoor benches for reading, a few trees, and its own Wallace fountain, the green and gold storefront itself seems to embody the shop’s motto (adapted from a Bible passage): “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”  

March 7, 2014

Anyone meandering along the banks of the Seine in central Paris will come across the dark green boxes of the bouquinistes affixed to the top of the low walls along the river, a Paris sight almost as iconic as the Eiffel Tower.  Over 200 used and antiquarian book sellers operate concessions of usually four boxes each; the 900 total boxes are estimated to contain over 300,000 volumes (mostly in French).  There are also vintage prints, magazines and journals; rare engravings, collectible stamps and old postcards.

Spanning stretches along both the Right and Left Banks of the river, you can enjoy a total of about 3km of browsing–but please ask permission to touch!  Casually pawing through the offerings just for fun is frowned upon. 

While book-selling has been an activity along this stretch of the river since at least the mid-16th century, it wasn’t until 1891 that the city allowed thebouquinistes to attach permanent boxes to the tops of the stone walls.  There is a waiting list for available boxes and a hopeful bookseller might be on the list for several years before any become available.
Lost Generation writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald browsed the offerings in boxes very similar to these, and one of the earliest “Americans in Paris” bought books here, too.  While US Ambassador to France at the end of the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson purchased numerous books from bouquinistes which eventually ended up in the early collection of the US Library of Congress, where they remain today.
Haiku Bouquinistes