November Reflections: Painting (and Patisseries) in Paris, Introduction to a Five-Part Series

Reflection in a room in Paris

One morning in October 2016, when Clive and I were lying in bed in Paris, he looked up and said, ‘That’s not good.’

I followed his gaze to the ceiling. Brown stains, watermarks and spreading cracks revealed that most dreaded of old-building problems: a leak. The photo below was taken a couple of months later, after it stopped spreading.

Just what you do NOT want to see on your ceiling

Though I don’t recall the exact date we first noticed the leak, I do remember the rush of emotion and that mysterious, time-bending thing that happens when, in only a split-second of real time, an entire sequence of images plays out in your mind.

In that instant, I foresaw weeks and months of practical challenges: unfamiliar processes, new French vocabulary, insurance, estimates, forms, experts, contractors, workers and, depending on where the leak originated, my neighbours. I dreaded what I knew would involve significant cost and disruption.

At the same time, I acknowledged to myself that one of many reasons I’d always wanted to have my own place in Paris was to go deeper, to make a commitment to the city and my relationship with it. I wanted to learn and experience Paris beyond the tourist surface (wonderful as it is) and beyond renting or staying in other people’s places (which I also loved doing). Whether positive or negative, I wanted a deeper immersion into all aspects of the culture.

Beneath the practical challenges, many thoughts and feelings flooded my mind and heart about my late husband, Gary. Nearly twenty years ago, he painted the room with his customary care and precision.

My late husband, Gary, painting in Paris

How it hurt to see Gary’s beautiful work stained by the unsightly dégâts d’eau, or water damage. When I bought the apartment, the rooms were uniformly beige, filthy and coated with layers of grease and grime. We saw the apartment’s bones and character and transformed it (more about this in my memoir-in-progress, which thankfully is *not* a ‘renovation disaster’ story). With only occasional assistance from me and our son, Gary did every bit of painting himself.

Of course I had to deal with the leak. I knew as much as it would pain me to have someone else ‘paint over’ Gary’s work, he would be the first, along with Clive, to encourage me, especially after nearly 20 years, to face the problem and do what was required to get it taken care of. Gary never let anything slide. Like Clive, he’d say it needs to be done, and done properly. Properly: a revealing, favourite word of both my highly-experienced, DIY-expert husbands.

The past 13 months have been a long journey, and a learning one — mostly in French, of course. During what I hope were the final days (there was a late problème which still worries me, but more of that later), our routine took on a pattern of overseeing work at the apartment, then doing errands in the late afternoon. For some reason, those afternoons seemed to take us past and/or into a lot of pâtisseries.

Liébaux chocolats et macarons, Paris

If I were to share all the details of each phase, the characters involved, the steps and the mis-steps, I suppose these recent adventures could form a separate memoir on their own. But I already have a Paris memoir I’m determined to finish.

Instead, I offer here a condensed five-part series. The quality of the photos is not always great; I took them only for myself and my son. It now seems appropriate to share a few as part of this petite histoire, or little story, about painting (and pâtisseries) in Paris.

Clive finding a problem with the bed

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next to come: Part 1, The Journey Begins.

Let Me Call You Sweetheart: This Week with Mom

My sweet mom fresh from the beauty parlour

This week Clive and I have been visiting my mother in New Jersey, following last weekend’s wonderful time with my son and daughter-in-law.

Mom’s Alzheimer’s continues to progress and, as I wrote on our last visit, I loathe the disease more and more as it takes away more and more of my mother.

Mom still knows me, for which I am extremely thankful. She’s still getting around with her walker, though she’s having increasing difficulty getting up out of her seat without assistance. Occasionally, when a program is held in one of the more distant rooms, an aide pushes her there and back in a wheelchair, though this is still fairly rare. She’s a real trooper walking back and forth on her own, one of countless ways she is, as she always has been, my inspiration.

Mom loves her special friend, the woman who was once a nurse. They have meals together and often sit side-by-side in companionable silence, at programs or in the lounge. Their faces light up whenever they see each other.

This week, we were able to attend a variety of programs with Mom and at other times, just sit with her in the lounge and in her room. I hung out with her in the beauty parlour one morning, which I try to do on every trip and we both enjoy.

Mom under the hair dryer in the beauty parlour

Mom continues to love anything musical most of all, and in the church service and several lovely music programs, she remembers lines to certain hymns and songs. I love watching her and joining her when she sings out ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’.

My mother is in every way a sweetheart. One afternoon as I was walking with Mom down a long corridor, an elderly man with a walker came up behind us and asked in a rather loud voice, ‘Is this your mother?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Dorothy is my mother.’

He nodded and as he passed us he said, ‘She is a VERY nice woman.’

Smiling in the mirror (and thanks to Donna for your wonderful work!)

I pray my mother remains content within herself as her Alzheimer’s advances. She long ago stopped reading and watching TV, and is having more trouble speaking and getting words out. But she still understands much of what is said to her, even if she forgets it right away, and we can still look at photos of her parents and talk about parts of her childhood.

During the week we had a few ‘ups and downs’ when Mom became anxious or agitated, but in hindsight I think the incidents were probably more upsetting for me than for my mother, thankfully.

Alzheimer’s is sometimes called ‘the long good-bye’. That is not a bad way to describe it.

As always, I wish we had more time to reconnect with more family and friends. I’m thankful we were able to see my cousins Sharon and Ron and Connecticut friends Sandy and Chris, along with my son and belle-fille.

God bless you, Mom and all our US loved ones. Counting the days until we meet again.

with my mom in the beauty parlour

Cheers and thank you for reading. Happy autumn or spring to all.

October in Paris: Furniture Moving via Japanese Landscapes at Musée Guimet

Musée Guimet, Paris

Clive and I are back in Paris for a few days, my favourite month (well, in Paris they’re really *all* my favourite) in my favourite city. This week we’re primarily here to accomplish a few necessary tasks in the apartment, to ready it for some serious painting and repair work later this month.

On our way in from Gare du Nord this afternoon, we managed to make it to the last two hours of the last day of the exhibit Paysages japoniais, de Hokusai à Hasui (Japanese Landscapes, from Hokusai to Hasui) at Musée Guimet, a museum that houses vast permanent collections and wonderful temporary exhibitions of Asian art.

If only this exhibit had been extended, for even a short time! I would have returned multiple times, to soak up the delicate, incredible beauty of the works on display. But that’s always the thing about Paris: infinite riches on offer and never enough time to see and do everything.

Paysages japonais at Musée Guimet

Ethereal artwork at Musée Guimet

Last hours of the exhibit, Musée Guimet

We weren’t the only ones taking in the exhibit in its final hours. I tried not to get frustrated by the number of people in front of each work and kept saying to Clive, ‘It’s okay, I’m definitely going to buy the catalogue.’ (This is something I don’t often do, though during the heat wave in June, I splurged for the catalogue of the Pissarro in Éragny, Nature Regained exhibit at the Musée Luxembourg.)

Book for the Japanese Landscapes exhibit, Musee Guimet, Paris

We started to fade and just before the closing time, I stepped into the always-enticing boutique (gift shop) for a browse.

There, along with all the other final-day exhibit-goers, I was greeted by a big sign that said the catalogue/book was completely sold out and would not be reprinted by the publisher.

Sooooooo disappointing! We all exchanged mournful looks and milled around picking up the odd postcard or fridge magnet, far from the envisioned experience of reading and learning and absorbing the artists’ works. I’m thankful we can hold in our minds and hearts the landscape images we were fortunate to see today

Clive likes the ones with people in them – some with humorous body language or facial expressions

I love the moon

While waiting for a bus to complete our journey from Felixstowe, we glimpsed the Eiffel Tower through the trees. Another great work of art, to be sure.

Glimpse of Eiffel Tower from the bus stop, Paris

Bonjour, Paris. As ever, I’m overjoyed to see you.

I’m not sure I’ll post again this week, but hope to do so if we have a few moments in between measuring small spaces and moving furniture around.

Cheers from Paris and thanks for reading.

Les Journées du Patrimoine: the British Embassy and Musée de la Vie Romantique during Paris Heritage Weekend

In the garden of the British Embassy, Paris


Les Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, European Heritage Days, are taking place all around Europe this weekend.

Many historic buildings and sites normally closed to the public are open to visitors. In France, many museums are free. Paris offers a wealth of wonderful possibilities in every arrondissement, or district.

The British Embassy

My Englishman on line by a British Embassy sign

Since Clive and I have not yet received an invitation to dine with the Queen at her Paris residence, we thought we would take advantage of today’s opportunity to visit.

The Embassy located is at 39 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré (almost directly behind the U.S. Embassy). The line was long but kept moving, and from what we could hear, we were among a tiny number of English-speaking visitors. The majority were French.

line for British Embassy Heritage Days

Once past security, we walked through a typically grand courtyard to the main entrance.

On the steps of the British Embassy

Inside, we were greeted by friendly staff, picked up a welcome brochure and watched the ambassador’s video-welcome message.

Clive between the Queen and the ambassador

We thought the rooms were elegant but not over-the-top ostentatious. In the Salon Bleu, the blue room, we managed to take another mirror-selfie.

Salon Bleu

Several rooms had beautiful views to the garden.

Salon Bleu room view

Clive said the Throne room with all its crimson splendour reminded him of Christmas and taking the kids to see Santa Claus. All that was missing, he said, was a sign saying, ‘Gone to feed the reindeer.’

The throne room

This may be as close to a State Dinner as we are likely to experience. Like the other rooms, the dining room was elegant but not pretentious, just sparkling with silver and flowers and chandeliers. It must be stunning when the candles are glowing.

Dining room at the British Embassy, Paris

We walked to the end of the garden, where Clive picked up a few conkers from among hundreds that had fallen from a chestnut tree. There we found an almost-hidden bench and relaxed there, before heading back to Place de la Concorde.

Garden of the British Embassy, Paris

Redouté’s Flowers at la Musée de la Vie Romantique

In the afternoon, we viewed the exhibit Les Pouvoir des Fleurs (The Power of Flowers), Pierre-Joseph Redoute, at the Musée de la Vie Romantique.

The museum entry is indicated by a modest banner on rue Chaptal.

Banner for la Musée de la Vie Romantique

One then proceeds up a cobblestoned path to the museum, once the studio of Ary Scheffer and gathering place of Frederic Chopin and George Sand, among others.

Pathway to the Musée de la Vie Romantique

Redouté, a Belgian artist, was known as the Raphaël des fleurs. He possessed not only great scientific knowledge but also great artistry, and worked with many leading botanists, including Joseph Banks.

Watercolours by Pierrre-Joseph Redouté

Watercolours by Pierrre-Joseph Redouté

The exhibit recounts Redouté’s legacy that inspired not only other painters but also creators of wallpapers, textiles and porcelain. My favourites were his delicate watercolours and the works he painted himself.

The artist and one of his works, Pierre-Joseph Redouté

0 5 Redoute fleurs

Flowers by Redouté

Clive and I have been to this wonderful small museum a number of times. Today, as part of the Journées du Patrimoine, admission was free. The rooms and garden café were more crowded than we’ve ever seen them, but I was so happy finally to make it to this exhibit. It runs until the end of October.

A popular spot today, the garden café of the Musée de la Vie Romantique

Le Pouvoir des Fleurs, the Power of Flowers

Merci, Paris, for a weekend of opening so many doors.

Cheers from the City of Light and thanks for reading.


Three Days in Paris – Candied Violets, Birthday in the Rain and Mozart Exhibit at l’Opéra Garnier

le jardin du Palais-Royal, Paris

Those who have spent time in Paris know you can experience endless sights, sensations and emotions in a single day

Here are a few photos and highlights of our past three days in the City of Light – and/or the city of intermittent rain and drizzle, as the moments may be.

Day One – les flâneurs, or walking around

Today we decided to walk as much as possible. This was partly because we spent most of yesterday riding trains and undergrounds, partly because many manifestations, or protests, were planned in response to President Macron’s proposed overhaul of French labour laws, and partly because Paris is simply a great walking city.

The most concerning event however was not a protest. It was arriving for lunch at our local café to find 1) no sign of Vlad and 2) the other waiters exceptionally, almost overly, friendly. This caused immediate alarm! We worried Vlad might be gone once again and wondered if the others were trying to ensure we remain regulars. We decided to wait a few days before asking.

Café sans Vlad

In the afternoon, we checked out a branch of a well-known French sweet shop, À la Mère de Famille, literally ‘to the mother of the family’.

Big kid in a candy shop, À la Mère de Famille, Paris

In addition to all manner of beautiful chocolat and nougat temptations, this shop offers a boiled sugar sweet I’d never tried before: candied violets. These little purple flowers are one of the most gorgeous-looking and tasting sweets I’ve ever had the pleasure of purchasing.

A supply of candied violets from À la Mère de Famille

This day we also found two patisseries unexpectedly closed – c’est la vie – and a ring of annoying trucks blasting their horns around the Arc de Triomphe. These were the only protests we witnessed, or more accurately, heard.

Trucks slowing traffic and making a lot of noise around the Arc de Triomphe

We relaxed over evening kirs at a café with purple chairs, before heading back to the apartment for Clive’s famous beef stew. It was delicious even without the parsnips.

Paris purple: love these café chairs

Day Two – Birthday in the Rain

Best birthday wake-up: cup of tea followed by coffee and birthday card and presents from my hubby.

Best birthday sight: seeing the back of Vlad from across the street as he served a table on the footpath. And lovely to think his colleagues were friendly just because they were pleased to see us. C’est bon!

Best unusual birthday experience: walking with our elderly neighbour to a local contractor and organising some work to be done later this year; making new contacts and experiencing the warmth of friendship and feeling like a local in the quartier.

Best get-out-of-the-rain activity (after lovely lunch at Cafe Louise, discovered years ago thanks to Rosemary of Aussie in France): checking out Lavrut art supply and papeterie in Passage Choiseul …

Lavrut art supplies & papeterie, Paris

… and wandering by a bookshop in la Galerie Vivienne.

Galerie Vivienne, Paris

Best Paris discovery: finding a new shortcut to the Palais-Royal as we made our way to the metro.

Best surprise moment of the day: our early evening stroll beneath the Palais-Royal arcades, along the edge of the garden. I think we were both caught unexpectedly by its beauty and serenity in the gentle rain. This historic building and garden are located in the heart of Paris, yet we were virtually the only ones there. Despite the rain, the fountain still flowed. A magical moment to remember.

le jardin du Palais-Royal, Paris

Best birthday dinner (as requested by moi): 2nd night of Clive’s stew (it’s best the 2nd night!) accompanied by a glass or two of Burgundy.

Best presents from amazon UK: when the concierge rang the bell and gave us the day’s arrivals, a new shredder and two boxes of assorted lightbulbs, all ordered before we left the UK. Spreadsheet man had inventoried our lamps and lightbulb needs. As a late-night birthday treat, he ran around replacing low-light bulbs with LED ones, brightening our space with the lightbulbs and his presence.

Best long-distance birthday event: Skype with son.

Best overall birthday experience: spending the day with Clive, in Paris.

Day Three – Mozart exhibit at l’Opéra Garnier and Violette Ice Cream at les Galeries Lafayette

Blue skies over Opera Garnier

From everything we read beforehand, attending Mozart, une passion française at the Opera Garnier seemed like a good idea.

The poster outside the building looked inviting.

Poster for Mozart exhibition at Opera Garnier

Once inside the lower-level visitor entrance, we purchased tickets in the usual way. After that, the signage seemed to disappear. We wandered around looking for hints and took a mirror-selfie before heading upstairs.

Mirror selfie on lower level of Opera Garnier

Up on the main level, we wandered a little more and a sign seemed to point to a rather dark side staircase. It didn’t seem right but eventually we proceeded up, with me muttering about the phantom of the opera (which I’ve never seen). On the next level we found another sign.

As you can see from the photo, there weren’t exactly hordes of people to reassure us we were on the right track.

Clive leading the way down hallway of Opera Garnier

Finally, voila! We reached the entry to the exhibit – and I see I have once again (this time inadvertently) taken a mirror selfie of the two of us. Looks like we’re the only ones interested.

Voila! Entry to Mozart exhibit

The exhibit was in fact quite good, giving a great overview of Mozart’s time in France and the professional and public responses to his music before and after his death. It’s the kind of exhibit the French do so very well, diving in depth into an aspect of an artist and his or her work with ever-unique commentary and illustrations of the person and the era.

Like the building that houses it, the exhibit has many marble steps and some are dimly-lit; we both nearly tripped on one set of stairs and a few minutes later, a man did fall. Otherwise this is a little gem of an exhibit.

Emerging back into the gilt of the Opera Garnier, we both felt in need of sustenance and a pause to relax, so headed across the street to Galeries Lafayette.

The gilt of the Opera Garnier

The view from the Galeries Lafayette terrace was very cloudy by late afternoon. We camped out at the level 6 café where I discovered yet another divine purple treat: violette ice cream. The taste is exquisite, so much nicer than my photo.

Cloudy view from Galeries Lafayette terrace

Violette ice cream aka heaven at Galeries Lafayette

It’s hard to capture the department store’s beautiful dome in a single phot, but it’s not a bad place for afternoon tea if you’re in the area.

Dome of les Galeries Lafayette

I conclude by adding that today we also returned to ‘our’ café for lunch, greeted and served by Vlad. It may have been our imagination, but we thought he seemed genuinely as pleased to see us as we were to see him.

Thank you to all who sent birthday emails and messages. I appreciate every one!

Cheers from Paris and thanks for reading.

Paris in September: la Rentrée, a Happy Return

Eiffel Tower and the Seine, through the metro window

This evening Clive and I arrived in Paris. We’ll spend a few days here, which I requested for my birthday (later this week). I love being here any time of year and that includes September, the month of la rentrée, literally the return – not only of children to school, but of residents to the city after summer holidays, to cultural events, museum exhibits, routines of daily life and – so far anyway, as no heat wave is forecast — cooler temperatures.

Our journey was smooth, beginning with huge thanks to our friend David who offered most kindly to drive us to the local train station after the last-minute cancellation of the branch service from Felixstowe. Merci beaucoup, David! Once on board, Clive did his puzzles and I read and looked out the window (and took his photo).

Clive doing puzzles on the train to London

We anticipated Monday hordes and there were plenty of people at St. Pancras station, but what a difference now that the northern hemisphere school year has begun. Less screaming children, more silver hair.

St. Pancras station, London

I’ve said it many times but I don’t think I’ll ever get over how easy and fast it is to travel from city centre to city centre via the Eurostar. You barely have time to unwind, open a book or magazine or have a snooze and a snack. Thirty minutes or so in the UK, then you enter the tunnel. Twenty minutes after that, the train emerges into northern France, which looks a lot like our beloved Suffolk.

Northern France through the Eurostar window

The total journey takes 2 hours and 15 minutes. Gare du Nord is undergoing endless renovation and construction and is rather grungy, especially compared to St. P. But it’s all about location and I can never help feeling thrilled – over the moon, actually — because we’ve arrived in Paris

Gare du Nord, Paris

At Gare du Nord, we hopped on the first metro, then made one change.

Changing metros & never a long wait

As usual, I had to photograph La Dame de Fer, the iron lady, through the window as we crossed the Seine (photo at the top of this post). I wasn’t quick enough to catch the new koala on the side of the Aussie Embassy – maybe another day.

It’s a rare first night we pass up a visit to our favourite waiter, Vlad and a relaxing kir at ‘our’ café, but this evening we lost some time searching unsuccessfully for parsnips for Clive’s stew. We forgot or never knew our parsnip man doesn’t work on Mondays – however we did find all the other ingredients so the chef has what he needs and we will enjoy his famous beef/veggie dish for a couple of nights this week. We looked for Vlad on our way back but it was later than usual and we think he had left for the evening.

A walk was then in order and we appreciated the sunset behind the statue of Maréchal Foch (a French general and Supreme Allied Commander in WW I) at Place du Trocadéro along with a visit to Ben Franklin on his hillside. Everything is looking wonderful

Sunset at Place du Trocadéro, Paris

Ben Franklin and his flowers

Clive snapped this photo of me on the Trocadéro esplanade. Paris is so much more than the Eiffel Tower, infinitely more, yet the sight of this graceful symbol of the city still moves me. I’m so happy and grateful to be here.

Bonjour, Paris. I’m so happy to see you again.

Cheers and thanks for reading. Happy rentrée to all who are welcoming autumn and the new school year and happy spring Down Under.

A Quick Trip to New Jersey

With my mom in NJ

Last week Clive and I made a short visit to my mother, son and daughter-in-law in New Jersey.

I wanted especially to see Mom in person, spend time with her and check up on how she’s doing both in her physical self and in her spirits. She always sounds okay on the phone, but that’s not the same as being together in person.

Nearly two years ago I wrote about Mom and the memory thief. Her Alzheimer’s continues to progress, faster now than in its earlier years. I haven’t changed my feelings about the disease; I just loathe it more and more as it takes away more and more of my mother.

Mom is still in her same room, still getting around very slowly with her walker and making the long trek to and from exercise, music and other programs at her assisted living facility. (A nurse there once told us they work very hard to keep residents walking because once they’re in a wheelchair, they often don’t get up again.) Mom used to hitch a ride once in a while on the motorised carts, but she’s become too anxious about stepping on and off (she shrieks or sometimes screams) so rarely does this now.

For several years, my mother enjoyed the company of a male friend, or ‘boyfriend’ as she called him. Since we saw him quite frail and unwell in May – it’s been many months since we could take her or them out in the car — he was moved to a separate nursing facility. Mom now has no memory of him. In some ways this is a blessing, I suppose, since she doesn’t miss him and never asks for him. In other ways, it signifies a greater memory loss that is crushing, though thankfully only to her loved ones and not – at least that we can tell — to Mom.

Mom has a wonderful new friend, a Jamaican woman who was once a nurse. They have meals together and often sit together at the programs; an aide told us they are ‘best buddies’. Mom doesn’t remember her friend by name, but recognises her on sight. Her friend is very kind to everyone, as is my mother. After spending several afternoons sitting with both of them, I believe that despite their respective Alzheimer’s, they recognise, at some soul-deep level, this quality of goodness in each other and for this reason are attracted to and appreciative of one another. Who knows? Two kind-hearted women are best buddies at the care home and this is something I thank God for every day.

Unfortunately there were no music programs the days we were with Mom, though she likes them the best. I chatted with her in the beauty parlor while she sat under the dryer, watched her one-on-one exercise program and held her hand while the long-suffering podiatrist cut her toenails. She screamed often and even Clive’s ‘close your eyes and think of England’ didn’t work this time. We spent most of the time just sitting and visiting with her.

In her room, we brought out her 90th birthday photo album and paged through, jogging her long-term memory about her parents and the house where she grew up in Paterson, NJ. She recognises photos of them and several of her childhood friends, but few others.

I remain thankful my mother is happy and well cared-for, grateful she has a new friend and still knows me and my son and usually Clive, too, though she doesn’t remember his name. I’m terrified of the day she doesn’t recognise me, but I try to appreciate the present and not look ahead this way.

I wish I’d taken more photos of Mom during this trip. For some reason, I only asked Clive to take one on our arrival evening (top of this post), when we’d come directly from the airport, weary and jet-lagged, and Mom was due to have her hair done the next day.

I struggle to know what to write about this dreaded disease, only that I wish we could be in multiple places at once so I could spend time with my mother more frequently. I know we are fortunate we can visit regularly and cherish every hug.

On a happier note, we enjoyed a wonderful catch-up with dear friends C&S from Connecticut (thank you so very much C&S for driving down), and spent time over the weekend with my son and belle-fille (a favourite French term meaning daughter-in-law, literally ‘beautiful daughter’). They are both doing great with work, family and life in general.

Already counting the days until we meet again.

My son and belle-fille in NJ

Cheers and thanks for reading. Happy almost-autumn or almost-spring to all.