Friday, May 15, 2015

Below ground dining at La Petite Cour, Paris 6th

I met a friend here for lunch recently and can say that I will definitely return. I made reservations for a table on their expansive terrace - highly advised in the warmer seasons. La Petite Cour is in the 6th Arrondissement, on a sub-terrain level of the city - one of the many hidden gems of the Paris dining scene.
The food was excellent. Starters of scallops served in their shell with a vinaigrette dressing, fresh asparagus with a poached egg, followed by a grilled cabillaud on a bed of greens - all very light and healthy, until we finished off the meal with a cafe gourmand and a caramel and chocolate tart.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lunch in the neighbourhood - Le Saint Ferdinand, Paris 17th

The pleasure of a short stroll around the neighbourhood and a late afternoon family lunch over the weekend. As much as the advice to anyone who wants a decent meal in the very many Paris restaurants is to make reservations - there are still some places, especially the neighbourhood bistros, which can always accommodate the hungry flâneur - stroller. One such place was Le Saint Ferdinand recently. We walked for a while, came across a fairly secluded but animated square with three restaurants within a 50m radius, made a choice and sat for lunch.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Musée Picasso, Paris

I had friends from South Africa visiting Paris two weeks ago, and it was during our moments visiting the tourist spots and walking around Paris, that I felt that thrill I once did before I moved here. The old adage that living in a place is a far different reality from visiting it still holds true. I have become somewhat jaded in my perception of Paris, but since last week I have a renewed appreciation for all things Parisian. Wanting to not lose even a moment of that renewed curiosity about the city, I planned a Sunday outing with my children - something we used to do often before our blasé attitude towards Paris and its many monuments became the norm. The Musée National Picasso was our art and culture excursion yesterday.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Touring Chinatown, Belleville

A guided walking tour of Belleville a couple of weeks ago revealed a world I would otherwise not have stumbled upon. Belleville straddles the 13th and 20th arrondissements. I have only been as far as the Père Lachaise cemetery and the Hotel and Bar Mama Shelter. This tour revealed an entirely different side to the Belleville I know.
A walk around is a sensory feast - from the open air markets selling everything from the 'Made in China' plastic ware to heaps of dragon fruit  to the supermarkets with their shelves lined with products both exotic and unfamiliar;  the working ladies - seemingly incongruous- plying their trade in the middle of the day right next to the école maternelles and children's parks, on the leafy tree-lined boulevards.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Eating at Les Chouettes in the Marais

Having read several reviews for Les Chouettes - which I thought to be the adjective, meaning fantastic or terrific , but when I saw the logo realised they meant the noun, meaning owl. Either way, it is a relatively new hip and cool addition to the Marais dining scene. I made reservations for a Saturday lunch and we ventured out for a family lunch. One thing I absolutely loved was the set-up of the restaurant. From the outside, it is fairly nondescript - nothing about the exterior warns of the nautical feel within. Once inside it looks like you're on a cruise liner. It has three levels: the ground floor has the main restaurant with its own bar, the first floor has another bar and more seating, on the third floor are quite reading corners and couches. I could definitely see it as a perfect place for a meet-up for drinks with friends.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

On being a shoplifter

"Browsing bookshops then buying online is a 'genteel form of shoplifting'", this according to David Nicholls, in an article in The Guardian from some weeks ago. He was speaking at the London Book Fair and bringing attention to the disappearance of bookstores, on how their numbers are dwindling more and more in neighbourhoods as the convenience and cost-effectiveness of e-reading has taken on. A bit of a harsh statement, I thought, feeling guilty.  In my defence, my browsing more often than not, always results in buying -  then in the further browsing of the books which I go on to download on my Kindle.

Even as a big offender when it comes to this form of 'shoplifting',  I will choose paper over electronic in a heartbeat. I love bookstores and libraries - always have. I can browse for hours in bookstores, wishing it were possible to be locked up in them with copious amounts of coffee and food, and just me and the books. Nothing thrills me more than the purchase of a new book in paper form - but the reality is that I cannot buy more books in paper form anymore - not as many as I would like to anyway. I no longer have the space in my house and the near-nomadic life I have does not lend itself to moving with boxes filled with books. So I have reluctantly fallen in love with my Kindle and the ease with which I can have my personal library in my hand without ever having to worry about leaving all those books that I buy behind.

Even with the convenience of e-books, there is a certain pleasure to be found in browsing. It is in seeing a title that immediately pulls; in running your fingers over the cover; and in skimming to a random page to determine whether the writing draws as much as the appearance, well that is something that Amazon and its click-of-a-mouse ease of purchasing cannot offer, but it is what we will eventually be left with. That thought leaves me feeling sad. I really wish there could be a common ground found between publishers and writers; between the behemoth-sized bookstores and the smaller independent booksellers, to allow for book lovers to indulge their passion without the guilt of knowing that they are not only pirating writers' incomes but are also contributing to the demise of bookstores.

Monday, April 6, 2015

On putting down roots as an expat
It is Spring and in readying myself for a new season I have been tossing, restoring and organising. The closets, the book shelves, the digital storage. On the physical side, this has been a fairly quick and easy process - we live in an apartment, so the closets and bookshelves were done within days, just the matter of organising my children's closets really, both of whom are still in the throes of their growth spurts. On the bookshelves it has been about finally letting go of those books I have hung on to for years, but which I am now fairly certain I will never read.
The organisation of the digital storage is what had me thinking about what putting down roots as an expat means. Our memories of the past seven years are all carefully curated in digital form. If we leave tomorrow, our worldly possessions in France can fit into a few boxes.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Traditional Easter lunch at La Societé, St.Germain-des-Prés

Not quite a traditional Easter Sunday lunch, but it was for us in that coming here has become something of a tradition.
My family is fairly loyal to restaurants that are consistent in their quality of food and service.  Four years later, and one of our favourite restaurants still remains La Societé in St. Germain-des-Prés. It is by the brothers Costes and has the exactly same menu, and clientèle as L'Avenue on avenue Montaigne. For drinks we are equally faithful to Bar Costes in Hotel Costes on rue St. Honoré.
You'd probably walk past La Societé in winter- when the only indicator that there may be a restaurant hidden away in the random building is the valet parking sign. It's discreetly tucked away in what I think is a law office building. During the week, the crowd is the fairly staid and serious type, and over the weekend it's the hip and fashionable. But is is always laid back and unpretentious.
Decor is dark and austere perhaps - dark wood and leather chairs, but the service is always friendly, the staff young and energetic, and the food does not disappoint. We love it for that. Today, not in any mood to rustle up a traditional Easter lunch we went for lunch, and I realised that in all the years we have been in France, it's one of the restaurants which I really like that I have not yet written about.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Snapshots of Lisbon, a city steeped in maritime history

Monument of Discoveries, Belém
I have been sitting on this write up for a while now, just trying to workout how I felt about Lisboa before I put it down. My first impression was that the financial crisis has hit Portugal harder than it has some of the smaller European countries  - and this is after a visit to Greece. It seemed a bit rundown, or perhaps I came with high expectations. However when I mentioned this to a friend of mine, she also had the same opinion - when she compared it to her native Italy, and her husband's native Spain. Patriotic sentiment aside, I have since learnt that Portugal is often referred to as the 'poor cousin' of the western European countries.

Overall it was an enjoyable four-day family getaway - The foodie in me especially loved the food. I learnt a great deal about the city's maritime roots as the point of departure for many an explorer, and as a port city during the more robust trading years towards the end of the Middle Ages. I have definitely learnt that not all European cities are created equal. Lisbon left me with an impression of wanting to see more of what the country has to offer though. I would like to return to Portugal one day, but this time to visit its northern city Porto, or to see some of its beaches in the Algarve or make a trip to Sintra, Evora and Aveiro to name a few.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Books: PELT AND OTHER STORIES by Catherine McNamara

Title: Pelt and Other Stories
Author: Catherine McNamara
Published: 2013
Genre: Fiction

In between my getting stuck into the novels on my TBR list, I have also been dipping into my collection of short stories - that wonderful genre that allows you to escape what may be a too serious, too tedious, or simply too long novel and lose yourself in other worlds in a fraction of the time.

I have mixed feelings about Catherine McNamara' s collection of stories. There are some I really  liked, and a great deal more that I found myself not enjoying one bit towards the end.
McNamara writes of a world I remember with fond memories - West Africa, more specifically Ghana. Her collection of short stories moves easily from Ghana to Australia to Italy and back again to Ghana and so on. The bulk of the collection though is based in West Africa.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Putting the words on a page

In the past week I have had numerous conversations with different people in my life about the challenges of 'getting the words on paper' or onto whatever medium. I have not been writing as often and as consistently as I would have liked. Last week my efforts were upended by a new computer and the ensuing setup issues - of course I could have always resorted to the old pen and paper but that would have been too easy.

A friend and fellow blogger Mama Loves Paris was unrestrained in her advice: "You can do it girl, just start and keep on writing!". I have slowly been putting the words down after spending an inordinate amount of time reading up on tips about writing from more sources than I dare to count. If only I spent my time more wisely.
Here are the tips I liked and which I have decided to apply to my writing habits going forward:

  • Hold yourself accountable
  • Have the courage to write badly
  • Treat writing as a job. Be disciplined
  • Be without fear. Too much fear and all you'll get is silence
  • Have more than one idea on the go at any one time
  • Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue
  • The way to write is to actually just write
  • Don't just plan to write - write!
That entire list pretty much sums up what I have not been doing for the last couple of months.
But change is in the air. So here's to holding myself accountable and to just putting the words on a page!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

On Reading South Africa

André Brink (1935 - 2015). Photo source:
In making my ambitious plans to read everything and anything this year, I decided that one of my reading forays would be into reading South African writers. I have not read that many South African writers and amongst my list of writers to read was of course, André Brink. Then on Sunday I saw a newspaper article announcing his death and suddenly there was this new urgency to get on with Reading South Africa. I have just taken his book Philida from my bookshelf and I am adding the internationally renowned A Dry White Season to my list. I have to narrow down my reading list though, so that in trying to read everything, I don't end up reading nothing at all. As I write this, a copy of Marlene van Niekerk's 692-page book Agaat is next to my computer. To say it looks intimidating is playing it down. The bar-coded date stamp at the back states that I bought it in March 2008 - it not only sounds like a lifetime ago, but it feels like it too. I think my reading it is long overdue. André Brink  is next in my new quest.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Gastronomy: "Le Frank" at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris

I finally got to see the recently opened Frank Gehry-designed glass monument that is the Fondation Louis Vuitton. It truly is a marvel to behold. There is an entire story behind how the lobbying for its construction went as high as the highest echelons of the National Assembly.
We finally went today. I took the initiative of ordering the tickets online, hoping to avoid any long queues, but we still queued for about thirty minutes - by which time my children were no longer keen on the idea of museum first, then lunch after. So we joined the queue for Le Frank - the Fondation's restaurant which has been named after the architect.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Urban artists pay hommage to Dalí

Being a sunny, if chilly day, we bundled up and headed out to Montmartre. My daughter, with her keen interest in street art or urban art was keen to see the Dalí Fait Le Mur exhibition at Espace Dalí. If you have ever been to this museum or rather space dedicated to Dalí's work, you will know that it is a very small space, and I wondered how they would fit a collaborative exhibition with the already extensive permanent collection of Dali's reproductions which are housed there.
They managed. If only just. The urban artists' works are juxtaposed alongside Dalí's many and varied sculptures and paintings. The artists, pay hommage to the surrealist painter who once asserted that "Surrealism is me", using the tools of their craft: pencils, stencils, installations, and adhering to the same non-conformist and provocative methods of Dalí himself.
If you are curious about Dalí and also have a combined curiosity about street art, go see it. Caution: It is a very limited space, so go on a quiet day. Images of the outing, which turned out to be a photo journey around one of Paris most famous tourist spots can be seen on Wanderlust in Paris. The exhibition is on until 15 March 2015.

Friday, February 6, 2015

On learning a new language

I had lofty ambitions of regaling you with weekly tales of my Sorbonne stories. But between daily grammar classes,  7:30am classes on writing and oral reinforcement,  lunch periods spent in the phonetics lab, mornings spent reviewing previous days' notes,  nights spent studying for weekly tests - all those ambitious plans fell by the wayside very early into my semester. It is now over, and yesterday as I sat through the 'graduation' ceremony (all pomp and ceremony for a semester course, absolutely loved it!) with past luminaries of L'Académie française looking down on us from their hallowed vantage points in the cornices, it felt good to have risen to the challenge. We were in good company - Founding father of La Sorbonne, Robert de SorbonneRichelieu, Pascal, Descartes, Lavoisier, Rollin ....
Would I repeat it again? Maybe, a very non-committal 'maybe'. It was a grueling four months - mind you not my first semester, but one which took a lot more of out of me than previous ones. I may not be too keen to resort to the classroom learning again for the moment, but I am living the learning everyday.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Reading the classics and tales about magic

Harper Lee.
 I have written about my aversion towards mandated reading that forces one to read a certain genre merely because at the time it is deemed important enough to add to one's literary repertoire. I must confess that when it comes to the classics, I do still have a lot of to-be-read (TBR) books  on both my kindle and on my bookshelf, for which I will ignore my own rules. I am 'shadow' reading with my children. My son is finally getting into the Harry Potter books - so I have decided that maybe it's about time I found out what J.K. Rowling did to spawn an entire generation and more of magic enthusiasts. As he reads The  Philosopher's Stone in paperback, I am following  on my kindle.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Books: WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith

Title: White Teeth
Author: Zadie Smith
Published: 2000
Genre: Fiction

Zadie Smith's White Teeth took me close to two months to finish. That for me is a very long time, but it was read between a whole lot of other commitments. I read it during my daily commute,  when I had a few moments waiting for my son's violin class to finish, and in between studying and writing and procrastinating. I finally finished it two weeks ago and it has taken me this long to write down my thoughts of it.  I took it off my 'To Be Read' (TBR) shelf expecting to be wowed, after all, the reviews that accompanied the book when it was published in 2000 were more than hyperbolic in their praise of Smith's raw talent:  how it was reminiscent of Rushdie's brilliance, how her turn of phrase was incomparable to none other, so steady and controlled for a debut writer.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

On the fractures left by the Charlie Hebdo attacks

It has been more than two weeks since the heinous attacks at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, but their aftermath still dominates our lives. Now local and international papers are running editorials on the renewed threat of  'international jihadism' - further emphasising the insecurity the world faces.

On January 7 and in the days that followed, I watched in horror as all the local and international television channels covered the Paris attacks. Then the world took on the Spartacus call of #Je suis Charlie; quickly followed by the debates on the need for responsible journalism. My fourteen year old daughter came home after a debate in her Global Issues class on The right to freedom of speech versus The right for respect of  individual beliefs  - a debate which left her uncertain of where she stood. There was the insecurity felt by an eight year old when all he saw was the gratuitous violence of the attacks which left him fearful of a larger scale attack on France, and in the  days that followed all he wanted to know was whether we would be moving to a different country. Other parts of the world and other groups of the French population took up a call in protest declaring that  #They were not Charlie; then followed the heated debates which divided many depending on which side of the Freedom of Speech spectrum they stood - all of which have left  France with the realization of the need for some real introspection on their liberté, égalité and fraternité.

This week Courrier International and L'Obs are paying special attention to the threat of  'homegrown jihadism', to the 'cracks in French society' that the attacks have exposed, and to France's failure in  integrating its immigrant population. This following on the past week's speech by the Prime Minister on the "geographic, social and ethnic apartheid" that ails France.
The attacks have left a rupture in the facade of the 'well-functioning society' of just a few weeks ago. It has exposed old persecution fears and reignited new religious prejudices: the Jewish population now feels more threatened and the Muslim population once again stigmatized. From the  Left to the Right, politicians are all talking in carefully couched words on the need to look at the 'integration' problem.  The Front National in the meantime is capitalizing on that fracture- reiterating the need to address the 'Islamisation of Europe', deftly avoiding any anti-immigrant mention.

To say it has been a horrific start to 2015 for France is an understatement. It will certainly be one that forces a great deal of introspection on the French population. One only hopes that as with all issues brought to the fore by relentless media coverage, the impetus to delve below the surface of the superficial talk does not wane after a few months as politicians move on to the next more pressing problem and quietly park the 'social problems' which, as has been illustrated by events of the past weeks, can threaten the security of a country.

Wishing you a very belated New Year, and hoping it only gets better from here on.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Books: CRY BABY by Lauren Liebenberg

Title: Cry Baby
Author: Lauren Liebenberg
Published: 2013
Genre: Fiction

I read Lauren Liebenberg's deliciously-named, The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam many years ago. I enjoyed it immensely and had been looking forward to reading her third book, Cry Baby. It is a story of an upper middle class couple, living in the Northern Suburbs of  Johannesburg  raising their two young boys - one of whom has terrifying nightmares that have an otherworldly significance to them. The author's point of view changes from that of the two adults to that of the little boy throughout the book.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Honouring the fallen on Armistice Day

This parade happens every year in my neighbourhood. Our apartment is directly opposite a historical monument, Place Winston Churchill. Along with the numerous other parades that take place in and around Paris on this day - most notably the one on the Champs Elysées - to honour the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany, a commemoration takes place in Neuilly-sur-Seine annually.
This year was no different. It is a brief, yet solemn event. These photos were taken last year, but the event was no different this year.