Monday, August 31, 2009

Fun French Link: Yahoo! France

Though I promised myself I wouldn't blog, I did take my computer to France; every few days I checked my favorite blogs, and my email.

Because I've never taken my computer to France, what I didn't realize is, when you log on to Yahoo! in France, you find yourself at Yahoo! France.

When I first discovered this it took me a few minutes to get oriented, but after that it was great fun; what a wonderful opportunity to practice my French reading. Once I established the context I found that I could muddle my way through some articles, and the photos provided good text support.

Seriously, this is a challenge but so entertaining.

Enjoy Monday's "Fun French Link!"

Sunday, August 30, 2009

In praise of the white tablecloth

Close your eyes and imagine this: you’re going out to dinner. Walking into the restaurant you see that the tables are covered with crisp, creased white tablecloths, and set to perfection; the glassware sparkles and the cutlery shines. You know that you’re in for a treat.

J’adore white tablecloths. A crisp, white cotton or linen tablecloth can transform the look of any table, and elevate a simple meal into an elegant experience. In Annecy it was not uncommon to see bistro tables adorned with white tablecloths, often for lunch, and always for dinner.

But you don’t need to go to France to achieve that elegance—you can do it at home, tonight. Many of you have a white tablecloth, oui? I recently purchased one at Crate and Barrel for $21.95. Pure, white cotton, 60 inch square with mitered corners and a beautiful drape, it’s exactly what I wanted and I will have it forever. But if you don’t have a tablecloth, a sturdy piece of white cotton fabric will work (dare I add, even a clean, percale sheet . . .).

After washing, let the cloth dry, but not completely; a little dampness will let you iron out any wrinkles with ease, and ensure crisp, knife-edge creases. And don’t forget to do the same with your napkins!

No special places settings are necessary, just make sure whatever you put on your table is sparkling. Take a bit of time to remove water spots from your glasses and rub your cutlery until it gleams. And remember, take pleasure in this preparation. Delight in performing these small domestic tasks; they will add to the experience.

Want an added touch? A small bunch of flowers from your garden in a small vase or juice glass will add a touch of color. After you’ve set the table, open a bottle of wine or sparkling water and set it on the table, et voilà! You’ve created that special “white tablecloth restaurant” feeling at home.

Simple and elegant, n’est pas? If you can’t try it tonight, save it for one night this week. I promise, it will make you want to linger, converse, and have just one more glass of wine, which is very, very French.

C’est bon, oui?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Age of Comfort

For those who have been patiently waiting for a new book, you may soon be rewarded. Scheduled for release on September 15, The Age of Comfort: When Paris Disvcovered Casual—And the Modern Home Began sounds like it might be just the book for those of us who are craving a good francophile read.

An article in yesterday's New York Times features a brief interview with the book's author, Joan DeJean and the following review is from
Publishers Weekly:

"French cultural historian DeJean presents an entertaining account of how home life was virtually reinvented in Paris from 1670 to 1765 as sofas, running water and flush toilets appeared in modern residences: the city became a giant workshop in which inventions in the arts and crafts and innovative technologies were tried out.

Louis XIV's and Louis XV's royal mistresses displayed a bold vision for integrating architecture, interior decor and fashion, thus influencing modern comfort. In private mansions, French architects subdivided interior space to allow for varying degrees of privacy.

As bathing became a pleasurable, commonplace activity, tubs became more comfortable and were redesigned as decorative objects in their own right. Men fell in love with the superexpensive flush toilet; the sofa—created by the architect Meissonnier—attained instant celebrity status; and interior decoration became a subset of the new architecture of private life as Parisians discovered that domestic interiors should be the expression of their personal taste."

If you are interested in French history and culture you have to be tempted, n'est ce pas?

Bon weekend!

The Sheath Dress at Target!

Just a quick, short update on the sheath dress: Target has a black one for $29.99!

Actually, they have quite a few that are worth a peek. I can't vouch for the quality, but it might be worth a trip to Target to have a look.

Tongue in Cheek

I’ve posted about David Lebovitz’s blog, which I love for his recipes, musings about food, and his wonderful stories about living in Paris. For French style and fashion, French photographer and illustrator Garance Doré’s blog can’t be beat. And every francophile loves Vicki Archer’s French Essence, an extension of her beautiful book, My French Life. These blogs have attained celebrity status, still their authors find time to respond to comments, and are gracious and generous with comments on the blogs of others.

But, there is one blog I read daily, religiously and that is Tongue in Cheek. I’ve never met Corey Amaro, but I feel like I know her, her family, her friends. Every day she invites readers into her life, into her home, and yes, even into her bathroom (how many bloggers will do that for their readers?!)

Corey is an extraordinary photographer and her blog is a testament to her talent. She is also a collector of French brocante and the pieces she has in her collection will make you swoon. And one of my favorite sections of her blog, “French Dressing” is a collection of photos and recipes of her favorite foods.

I can’t say for sure how I discovered Tongue in Cheek, or what attracted me in the first place. But what keeps me reading day after day are her posts about her friends (especially Annie), her teenage children Sacha and Chelsea (I have a teenage son of my own and her stories about her son Sacha resonate with me), and her French husband (he reminds me of my sister’s French husband).

Corey has taken her readers to fancy parties and on day trips in the south of France. She takes us to the French brocante and to the marché. She invited readers into her home during her kitchen renovation (who does that?!) and most recently, Corey took us on a three week motorcycle trip she shared with her husband.

If you’ve never visited Tongue in Cheek, you are in for a treat. But be warned: the first time, you can’t drop in for a quick visit! No, no, you need to pour a glass of wine and settle in for a time because reading Corey’s blog is like reading a good book, or paging through a new issue of your favorite magazine. Beautiful photography, trips to Paris, stories about Corey’s family, her antiques—there is so much to take in!

As I said, I have never met Corey, but I feel like I know her. She is fun and funny and wonderfully human. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a good friend, and she generously shares some of her most intimate life moments with readers who have come to adore her.

Mille mercis, Corey.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Je pense

One of the things I appreciate about some of the blogs I follow is they are so reliable in content, in layout, and stayng true to their original intent. These bloggers have maintained their blogs for many, many months, even years, and have found a way to appeal to a range of readers, and still please themselves. Corey Amaro's Tongue in Cheek, Vicki Archer's French Essence, and David Lebovitz's Living the Sweet Life in Paris are several that come to mind, and are my go-to blogs for learning more about life on the other side of the Atlantic.

But there are other blogs I enjoy because they are still evolving. These writers try out new approaches, revising their blogs to more accurately reflect what they want to say. Mary over at A Simple Life and Stephanie from Bonjour Madame have recently changed direction or added features to their blogs. Even Andi, who does this professionally, has moved Misadventures with Andi from Blogger to Wordpress in order to take her blog to the next level.

It is a challenge to find new content or come up with ideas, especially if you're not living the sweet life in Paris. I'm finding myself a bit stuck at the moment, and I'm not sure why. My original intent was to share "ways to introduce small but authentic French touches into your life." So far, I've managed to stay on message, but while I was in France it was so tempting to do the tour d'Annecy, complete with photos of shops and cafes and markets and meals. And now that I'm home, I'm resisting the urge to write about "what I did on my summer vacation."

In my attempt to stay true to my original idea, while trying to sharpen my focus, I'm considering more series writing, and, writing within specific categories. For example, Monday's posts might be about style, Tuesday posts about food, etc. I'd also like to continue to review and share books, blogs, and websites I discover, so maybe that could be Wednesday, Thursday and Friday? All in all, it's not much of a change, n'est pas? But it feels less random, and I think it will help give shape to my writing.

So, c'est une bonne idée? I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Sheath

I saw it everywhere, and on everyone: the sheath dress. In linen, cotton, solids and prints, and even in tropical wool, the sheath dress seemed to be popular in Annecy this summer.

Someone suggested that the sheath dress is enjoying new attention because Michelle Obama has made it a staple of her wardrobe. That may be true, although it seems just as likely that the style is popular simply because it is classic. From Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly to Jackie Kennedy to J.Crew, the sheath dress continues to enjoy a place in many wardrobes.

While Holly and Jackie sported pearls with their sheath dresses, what I saw in France was very different. Though it is a city and it is chic, Annecy sports a more casual chic. Instead of pumps with a sheath dress, it was strappy sandals, or even flip flops! Instead of pearls or a scarf, I saw simple gold or silver necklaces, or Senegalese beads, and the Birkin was replaced by a fun canvas bag or a market basket. It just goes to show that in France it's all about style, not fashion.

Before you say “but I can’t wear a sheath . . .” think about this: a sheath dress is designed to hug the figure. If you’re fuller in the hips, find a dress that accommodates your hips and have it tailored (which is très français, by the way). Seriously, think about Michelle Obama; she’s fit, but she’s not petite. And, if you don’t have Michelle’s arms, there is always the cardigan.

Anyway, one of the first things I did after unpacking was to pull out my charcoal grey sheath dress (and my cardigan), put on my sandals, grab my market basket, and head out to do the grocery shopping.

And I felt very French . . .

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Simple is beautiful

You travel, and when you return you’re surprised by how much has changed. Today I realized that summer is nearly finished. Oh, there will be many more days of heat and humidity, but the gardens—those emblems of summer—are fading. On an early morning walk, I passed neighborhood gardens to see flowers dying back, thinning out, going to seed.

Summer gardens hold so much promise. We know what we’ve planted and what it will look like: we know that tomatoes will grow here and the roses will bloom over there, and the catmint will tumble over the wall. Still there is anticipation for the flowers and vegetables that will entertain and sustain us for months. I didn’t get to see the gardens at the height of summer beauty, a trade-off for spending time in a different place. But the trade was more than fair, n'est ce pas?

I haven’t forgotten Laura Joliet’s list, and for weeks I’ve been thinking about my own. Honestly, though I’ve added a few things, I don’t think I can improve on hers. So this morning I cut the last of the yellow coreopsis, the fading crape myrtle blossoms, and the lariope spikes, gathered them into a beautiful bunch, and placed them in a white pitcher as a reminder to embrace the seasons, and that the simple and ordinary is beautiful.

Sometime today, take a look around your own yard, try to see it with fresh eyes, take some cuttings and place them in a simple vase. You'll see what I mean.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Je suis de retour!

I arrived home yesterday to a full house--teenage son, teenage son's friends, extended family, dogs--a noisy, joyous return to my life. It is so good to see everyone, to share greetings from my sister and her family, and countless stories from my trip.

It's going to take me a while to unpack, do laundry, and catch up on my life, then I will be back to blogging.