Do You See What I See

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Continuing quest for lighter spirits, had a blast helping Santa find surprises for my tribe yesterday in the very center of Paris at the Forum des Halles , admiring the big tree and giant ornaments in the Cour Carrée. Exited the mall to check out shops on rue Montmartre and rue Montorgueil, pouring rain, Nature called, very little cash in my wallet, limited options. Popped into a vintage tabacconist hoping to use the facilities. Basic French etiquette demands that one say bonjour and order an expresso at the bar before asking for the toilettes. As I was doing this, the owner saw me looking desperately around his establishment trying to figure out if it was upstairs, downstairs, in the courtyard, or non-existant. He motioned towards a miniscule stairway in the back, “It’s on floor one and a half, up the stairs to your right, but take off your coat and leave your packages here, it’s very tiny.” I thanked him and obeyed, feeling like I was in Being John Malkovich, Paris style.

A flight and a half up, I found a sink, an automatic hand dryer, and a door, which I opened. There waiting for me was a vestige of the old Paris I discovered when I first got here:  a ceramic rectangle with two raised platforms for your feet and a forbidding hole designed to squat over. Most Americans I have known would rather explode than go inside one of these (right Vicky?). Thank heavens I’m pretty limber, could fit inside, and knew what to do. Also the light switch was duct-taped into a permanent “on” position so I didn’t have to lock myself in before the light came on, the way these things usually  work. How many times did I crouch and pee, terrified, in semi-darkness, clutching the door at the same time so I wouldn’t fall into the hole or be interrupted by someone else trying to get in,  back in my student days before I figured things out? You didn’t always find toilet paper then and the other shocking thing was how you would pull the flush chain with the clammy white ceramic handle hanging at the back under the water tank perched near the ceiling and a cold mini tsunami would burst out from a pipe over the hole and soak your feet and ankles. This time I remembered to jump out of the way in time. After emerging and washing my hands, I took a nostalgic photo for posterity. The “other side” of Paris: DSC02381

I couldn’t resist congratulating the owner on preserving this historical “à la Turque” monument  and we discussed how experts now say this model is healthier than throne versions. For the record, one of my friends credits her two easy childbirth experiences with having one of these in her first apartment, before renovations. My first apartment on the rue du faubourg Saint-Denis had a shower in the kitchen and shared one of these not only with my 3 roommates, but with the entire floor of the building… I survived! Very happy to now have my own throne and bath.

Counting blessings…

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

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Looking for light in darkness, anywhere I can find it…everyday routines, wit, kindness, imagination, running into a friend, silly animal pictures… Trying to stay up to date without OD’ing on headlines…Every time I think I’m coming to terms with events, they go to another level…never thought I’d see the day when I’d be talking to my son about how to survive grenades (run, get down, close eyes, put fingers in ears, open mouth) and kalashnikovs (run, crouch behind a car at the wheel hub) and more…Grateful for the holiday season, music, decorated streets, ancient traditions about death and rebirth of light… winter food!

DSC02367A new discovery: what to do with leftover roast turkey, dressing, and gravy, inspired by watching Chef Gilles Épié… (Works especially well with free range birds and home-made stuffing) It’s great to keep the carcass for soup stock, so a few days after the big meal, remove the last meat from the bones and scoop the drippings from the roasting dish into a sauce pan to start a “roux” over a low flame. Turkey fat replaces butter and instead of sprinkling in flour to thicken it, put in a few tablespoons of stuffing (full of turkey juices, and depending on your recipe, bread, chestnut bits, onion, celery, apricots, walnuts, a little parsley?) flattening them with a fork to blend with the drippings as they melt. Pour in broth from stewed giblets and as much milk as needed depending on the number of hungry mouths (last minute cream is also an option). Add in leftover turkey or sliced free range filets to round out the quantity. Secret ingredients: sweet paprika for color and a little curry powder to bring out the meat flavors, plus sea salt from Guérande, and freshly ground black pepper. If you have a slab of parmesan, you can grate some in for texture and pizzazz. Meanwhile, sauté broccoli in olive oil and garlic. You can use frozen or fresh. The main idea is to let the water (already in the frozen, add to fresh) steam the stalks until tender, then cook over low heat, keeping an eye on them so the water evaporates, to “concentrate the savors” as they say at the Cordon Bleu “Chef’s Secrets” evenings (worth every euro)… When the broccoli is almost ready and the sauce is thickened, seasoned to your taste, and liquid enough to keep warm on a low flame without burning, heat several quarts of water in an electric kettle, pour into a pan with a little salt, bring to a boil, and add a pack of linguine (500g or 1lb will make enough for the next day). Cook pasta about 8 minutes, then drain, leaving a little hot water in the bottom of the pot. Serve pasta on plates, with a ladle of sauce and a few fleurettes of broccoli. When I was little my grandmother and mother used to make “Turkey Tetrazzini” casserole with similar ingredients, baked in the oven. Every time I tried, it turned out dry, so this is my new version. It was a big success. Thanks Gilles Épié for the stuffing as thickener concept (in his turkey gravy recipe). I recommend his restaurant Citrus Étoile, near the Champs Élysées. Joy to the World!

PS Just found my mom’s Turkey Tetrazzini recipe and the reason it’s so mouth-watering is that it has sherry and lemon juice in it, plus cream!!! Something to look forward to next year! Putting the recipe with the holiday ones :-))))

When We Have Only Love

Thanksgiving full moon over the Seine

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Time-lapse Thanksgiving this year… festive evening Thursday with 20 other guests on the Île Saint Louis  at Wendy Rohm’s, a moment of silence for those who are no longer with us,  then duck in orange sauce, turkey and all the trimmings… Tomorrow afternoon,  Sunday, intimate Thanksgiving dinner for family and a few close neighbors…

Additional highlight this week: memorial for the attack victims. President Hollande asked for French flags at the windows. Flag-averse Parisians responded with improvised bleu blanc rouge towels, bras, furniture, and yes, even some real tricolores.

Most moving picture: one of Jacques Brel’s most beautiful songs, Quand on a que l’amour interpreted by three young women, a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim, in the courtyard of the Invalides. Here’s a translation of the lyrics, no rhymes, just the meaning (feel free to make suggestions):

“When we have only love, to offer each other, for the great journey, what good is true love?

When we have only love, my love you and I, to make every hour and day shine with joy…

When we have only love, to live our promises, with no other riches than believing forever…

When we have only love, to furnish with marvels and cover with sun the ugliness beyond the walls…

When we have only love, our only reason, our only song, our only haven…

When we have only love, each morning to dress beggars and bandits in velvet coats…

When we have only love, to offer in prayer for the pain of the earth, as a simple troubadour…

When we have only love, for the ones who fight only to find the light…

When we have only love, to make a path, to defy fate at every crossing…

When we have only love, to answer canons, and only a song to persuade war drums…

Then, with nothing else but the strength of our love, we will carry the world in our hands…”

 

Thanksgifting

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Today is a regular Thursday in France. News from so many places is unbearable… how to celebrate? Gratitude for family, friends, roof over my head, food on my plate, clothes on my back, water in my tap, air in my lungs, sunshine on my skin, cold weather, sapphire sky, Paris… Heart still heavy.

Then this was waiting for me at my home away from home: Marion, Alexandra, Lucas & Simon lighting up their new wood stove for the first time.

Once a wise woman said, “When you bite into an apple, send what you taste to the hungry.” For what it’s worth, this flame, this tiny perfect instant is going out to anyone who needs warmth and comfort, as my thank you gift. Does loving the world somehow keep it alive?

Breathe Freely

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Ivy wall Hôtel de Sully

Surround yourself with beauty and the beauty inside you will answer it…

Find a beautiful living thing and just be with it…You might be holding your breath. Close your eyes for a moment, then open them. Does it look different? Close your eyes again and let yourself be. You might even rest your breath, letting it stop for a while. Observe what happens. In its own time, it will start again, perhaps with a sigh, and find its own rhythm. When it feels right, open your eyes and drink in the colors, vitamins for the soul.

A lot of people are having delayed reactions to last week’s events. Bursts of emotion, insomnia, isolation. Part of the group mind is imagining peace. Let’s connect to it through beauty.

Random Acts of Joie de Vivre

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Joie de Vivre, a new mantra… overcame my fear of public transportation last night, crossed the city through big crowded Metro stations, nervous about people with baggage, got out at Invalides, happy to see the Alexander III bridge, the Grand Palais and the Eiffel Tower…all because I had promised my friend Karin to help out at the children’s stand at a charity bazaar being held at the American Church on Quai d’Orsay. It was a good decision. Life affirming to see so many friends working together for a good cause, braving extremist intimidation. (The US Embassy has just boosted the alert level to “Extreme Vigilance”). We worked hard to set up the tables for the sale and were asked to gather midway through the evening for a moment of silence. Always moves me. Then we sang La Marseillaise. I felt transported back in time to the 18th century (check the date?) when the words were written and France was inventing a new national identity. I never liked the words up to now but understand them in a new way, as metaphors…

Speaking of revolutions…when I got home I saw posts about Youtube videos of Muslims burning the Daesh flag all over the world and more Muslims in France speaking out, launching a “spiritual Jihad” against Daesh… Observers wonder aloud if this is an inner revolution within Islam and I wonder what inner flags we can all burn to create peace? How about the one showing the US rearming Saudi Arabia to the tune of a billion and a half dollars? I try to keep my mind above politics, but sometimes it’s hard…

Focus on beauty in every moment, walking around this city is a meditation on loveliness…

So sorry the Climate March had to be cancelled along with so many other things, like the Model United Nations for high school students scheduled in other European cities… the kids learn so much about the world there and how to expand our narrow points of view…

If you’re feeling brave, do stop in at the AAWE Bazaar at the American Church today and tomorrow Quai d’Orsay, M° Invalides, to pick up some early holiday gifts and good vibes…It’s on two levels: ground floor theater (vintage shoes, clothing, beautiful hand made crafts…) 3rd floor “Thurber Room”: children’s clothing and toys, books and gorgeous cupcakes, delicious baked goods, “café”…

To be continued, Love, xxxx, Aliss

Meeting of Minds

Woke up this morning feeling like cr** and had to laugh when I saw  it’s “International Day of the Toilet”? (Who makes this up?)

Decided to take a few minutes to meditate, hoping to upgrade my inner radio. Trying to focus on the “centering thought,” my mind wandered and I realized  I forgot to say how grateful I am to everyone who has dared to speak out, even if briefly, with love for France, against violence. I gave up on being a superior meditation genius and went on line to add a post. A message had just come in from the young Muslim French woman whose video blew me away earlier this week. I had hit her name and sent “Thank You” to her “other message” box on FB, the one that no one ever checks. She got it and responded, “Bonjour Aliss Merci à toi pour ces mots! Que dieu te garde et te préserve LOVE.”

She was sending me these words as I was meditating (however imperfectly)…

Thank you, Paris, for putting me in touch with people I never would have known otherwise, from completely different backgrounds, who share a desire for peace…

To be continued, Love, xxxx Aliss

Thursday, November 19th, 2015, My Act of Defiance

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My act of Defiance

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Reality check Tuesday evening. I came out of the grocery store to see soldiers in fatigues, carrying machine guns, walking down my street, right in front of my building. Were they going home after a day guarding our local Jewish school or is this now their regular beat? I’m glad they’re here, but I feel like I’m in a war movie.

Wednesday morning I woke up to a message from my friend Bonnie who lives in Saint Denis, just over the beltway (Périphérique) north of Paris. She said there was a shoot-out going on but didn’t know if it was a new attack? The Metro was closed and the the police told everyone to stay indoors.

My son went off to school on foot like every morning and I told my husband something was going on and the Metro might not be running. I turned on the TV news and saw the army of journalists filming the SWAT teams on site right near the centuries-old Basilica where all the French kings were buried until looters desecrated their tombs during the Revolution.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_St_Denis

A siege was underway in the rue de la République there. Residents had heard at least one explosion and exchanges of gunfire, ambulances were lined up, it was rumored that policemen had been wounded. I can’t imagine how the “forces of order” (as they say in French) managed to do anything with all the journalists and rubbernecks filming with their phones. Weird.

The French TV channel kept showing the same interview over and over: a young woman in a hijab with a nose piercing kept saying she was in the toilet with her baby and heard explosions and gunfire on the floor above her before she managed to leave the building.

News commentators said a female suicide bomber had blown herself up, other suspects had been shot or arrested, but no one would know who they were until forensics could do DNA analysis because terrorists not only shave off their beards and cut their hair short but even have plastic surgery to completely alter their appearance and avoid being recognized.

I tried to stay off social media but failed. A friend posted two incredible videos of French Muslims (no idea where he found them!)– a young woman of Senegalese origin and a young man who didn’t say where his parents came from. Both were yelling at the terrorists and criticizing the Muslim community for not cleaning up its act! I had never seen anything like it before. It was riveting: finally hearing from people who know both cultures and communities, telling the terrorists to “stop breaking our balls, if you don’t like France, go live in Afghanistan or join the Algerian army and see if you like it, otherwise if you stay in France and like being greeted as French when you travel, having your kids in good schools, enjoying the protection of the French judicial system, collecting welfare and unemployment, then pay your taxes and stop complaining!” And much much more… If any non-Muslim said half of what these two did, they would be pilloried by the French media. Both films were watched by thousands of people and got tons of “likes.”

In disbelief, I showed the videos to my husband and son but when I wanted to get my best friend’s opinion, the videos had disappeared! Did the speakers realize they’d put themselves in danger and take the videos down? If so, a sad statement about freedom of speech.

Heart rending pictures of a French policeman weeping on his comrade’s shoulder after seeing the carnage on Friday night, of refugees and bombing victims… All over the world, people singing the Marseillaise and waving the French flag! Monuments lit up in blue, white, and red, Charlie Hebdo cover showing a bullet-riddled French reveler saying “We don’t care, we have champagne!” Funny comments and posts ridiculing Daesh for trying to compete with macaroons, Sartre, Proust, Gauloises, etc… much needed comic relief between tears….

Late afternoon, my son came home from school and his tutor arrived to help with homework. A young French woman in her late twenties, she has a Masters in psychology and recently got a job as a middle school counselor. She was completely drained after leading workshops where kids could vent after the events of the weekend, with no psychological support for herself or the other adults. She said to Ivan, “Not all the kids are lucky enough to have parents who supervise what they watch on TV. These kids have seen things they shouldn’t have seen and they’re very scared.” She had never said anything to me about this before, so I was surprised. I’m going to keep putting my foot down. It’s been a constant struggle, but it’s worth it (I hope).

Sometime during the day I read the bios of the terrorists and was disgusted. They can’t even use difficult childhoods as an excuse. The main guy’s father owned a clothing store and a house in Brussels, he sent his son to a good school, nothing worked. I really felt sorry for the family. Their life was ruined.

The Washington Post reported that the ringleader from Belgium had been killed but the New York Times said it wasn’t confirmed. Same with French media. There was no way to know.

In the evening I pulled up a chair at one of our local cafés on a busy intersection and had a glass of wine, watching the crowds rushing by in a blur. It felt fantastic, even if I kept looking around just in case. I hadn’t been inspired to take any pictures for a while, much less post them, but my glass of white wine on the red café table looked like an oasis of joie de vivre, symbolizing everything we can do here, all the possibilities… so I immortalized it under the heading  “My act of defiance.” You could also call it “My act of faith.”

Today the terrorist mastermind’s death was confirmed. I want to forget his face but it pops up everywhere.

Turning off social media.

To be continued, Love, xxx, Aliss