the return of Sarko

Oh god.  Anyone’s got to be better than François Hollande, but do we really want Sarko and his wife, Carla Bruni, back in the Elysée Palace??

After months of speculation, Nicolas Sarkozy announced his return on Facebook two days ago.  Tonight he’ll be appearing on TV on the Sunday 8 o’clock news to officially proclaim his comeback to the good citizens of France.  8 million viewers are expected to watch.

In a recent poll, 55% of French voters stated that the return of Sarko would be a bad thing.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Nicolas Sarkozy is the only French president in history that did not win a second term.  After serving for 5 years – from 2007 to 2012 – he was voted OUT.

Here’s what the head of the Ecology Party in the National Assemblée, wrote: “Nicolas Sarkozy is not returning to save France … he ruined it. He’s not returning to save the UMP … he ruined it. If he is reinventing himself as the head of the UMP, would it be to save his legal skin?”

Sarkozy is still at the centre of a number of legal investigations.  In July, he was placed under formal investigation on suspicion of seeking to influence judges.  Other inquiries include links with former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and illegal campaign funding in 2012 to the tune of €363,600.

Personally, I’d like to see a woman president of France and here’s a name that’s being whispered in the back corridors of power:  Christine Lagarde.

If you remember, Madame Lagarde replaced Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the head of the IMF after his fall from grace.

Here’s her profile from Wikipedia –

Christine Madeleine Odette Lagarde is a French lawyer and politician who has been the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund since 5 July 2011. Previously, she held various ministerial posts in the French government as Minister of Economic Affairs, Finance and Employment and before that Minister of Agriculture and Fishing and Minister of Trade. 

A noted antitrust and labor lawyer, Lagarde became the first female chairman of the international law firm, Baker & McKenzie. On 16 November 2009, the Financial Times ranked her the best Minister of Finance in the Eurozone and in 2014, Lagarde was ranked the 5th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine.

If Christine Lagarde should run (and people are saying that she’d never leave her cushy job in Washington to return to France), I’d back her.




Today is 27°C, very dry, dusty and hot with an elevated and unhealthy pollution index.  I’m sick of pollution – air, noise, water, food.  I want to retire to the high plains of New Mexico and live under an endless, unpolluted, blue sky.  I want to smell the piñon again!  I crave space, clean air, silence (my apartment overlooks a road that is becoming increasingly noisy and congested).

I’ve only been to New Mexico twice, but loved it intensely both times.  On both trips there I arrived by train – the first was on the Amtrak Southwest Chief that originated in NYC and passed through Chicago (I was on that train for two days!), and the second trip on the overnight from Los Angeles. I can’t wait to go again.  But I don’t think I’ll take the train; I’ll probably fly into Albuquerque then make my way to Santa Fe and beyond.  If any of you kind readers have any tips concerning travel in New Mexico, I’d love to hear them.

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In my neighbourhood there are several beautiful parks, not to mention the Seine river at the foot of my street, but I’ve recently discovered a new refuge in which to sit and write my book project undisturbed. The municipal cemetary.  At the end of an alley and past a trio of chubby cherubs is a bench where I can sit in complete silence. And solitude! I was the only person there this afternoon.  That is, me and a thousand souls.  However it became SO HOT, I had to leave.  Some people might find it odd to sit in a cemetary to write, but I find it peaceful.  Here’s the bench below, under a beautiful tree whose name, I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t know. (I’ve been meaning to buy a tree book for 15 years now.)

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French cemetaries, with their sepulchrals and family burial vaults, are not like English or North American ones. They are far more ornate, well-tended, regimented, and sacrosanct. I think I’ve just described the Catholic Church.

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I’ve just learned that the famous Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky, master of abstract expressionism is buried here.  I had no idea.  I’ll have to go back and find his plot.

It’s now later in the day, we had a terrific rainstorm and the temperature plunged 8 degrees.

For anyone interested in glamorous train travel, here’s a super article I found (with great photos) recounting the glory days of the THE SUPER CHIEF – “THE TRAIN OF THE STARS” – that ran from Chicago/NYC to Los Angeles throughout the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s.

Sunday market under a sultry sun + Netflix

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It’s too early for Indian Summer, but we’ve been enjoying a week-long spell of glorious sunny weather here, and today is no exception.  25°C, breezy and sunshine. This coming Tuesday is forecast to go up to 29°C.  So I trundled off to my local outdoor market this morning to stock up on fresh fruit and veg. I inquired as to the origin of these mangoes and was told Egypt and Israel. Depending on the season, they’re also imported from Peru, Brazil and the African Ivory Coast.  Delicious! 

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Fabulous framboises and a mountain of melons.

Sept 14, 2014 Neuilly market Sunday 037Sept 14, 2014 Neuilly market Sunday 038Sept 14, 2014 Neuilly market Sunday 049Can’t get enough of these tasty tomatoes.  Elles sont extra!Sept 14, 2014 Neuilly market Sunday 046Sept 14, 2014 Neuilly market Sunday 047

I make a simple green salad using only lettuce (fresh lettuce, not bagged) and these tomatoes.  Then I make a vinaigrette. Olive oil mixed with a little walnut oil if you have any, balsamic or any other vinegar, sea salt, good-quality French mustard and a tiny bit of honey to cut the acidity.  Done!  No-one uses bottled salad dressing in France. (Make sure that you’re whisking your vinaigrette with a fork in the bottom of the glass salad bowl, not in a separate bowl.  Grated garlic makes a nice addition.)

Sept 14, 2014 Neuilly market Sunday 061Sept 14, 2014 Neuilly market Sunday 062And look at this selection of freshly-caught fish….we’re spoiled for choice.Sept 14, 2014 Neuilly market Sunday 055Sept 14, 2014 Neuilly market Sunday 058Sept 14, 2014 Neuilly market Sunday 060French girl in a tree.Sept 14, 2014 Neuilly market Sunday 063

I have a bottle of Gewürztraminer chilling in the fridge for later which is a sweetish white wine from the Alsace region.  For my dinner tonight I’m making coriander chicken curry with spinach. The recipe, which I picked up in a Waitrose supermarket in London, actually calls for prawns (shrimps), but I’m using chicken.

Easy and delicious - onion, freshly grated ginger root, crushed garlic, 1 red chilli, curry paste, coconut milk, 3 chopped tomatoes, fresh baby spinach, chopped fresh coriander and fresh or frozen prawns (shrimp).

Tomorrow is a big day in France. Why?  Because the long-awaited NETFLIX arrives on French soil and the official launch is tomorrow.  I’ll be first in line to sign up and pay the 8 euros a month.  However, things rarely go smoothly here and I won’t be able to watch the shows on my TV screen.  Here’s what The New York Times said -

The fiercest resistance to the California-based company is emerging in France, where, so far, telecommunications operators like Orange are refusing to carry the service on popular television-top devices that enable Internet streaming because they have not settled on financial terms. Netflix is nonetheless available on tablets, computers and smartphones.

And The Telegraph -

Netflix launches in France to hostile reception
The American video streaming service Netflix launches in France on September 15 amid hostility from state-subsidised local media and fears that it will erode the French “cultural exception”.  

Several of the local telecommunications operators including Orange, owned by France Telecom, SFR, and Free are refusing to host Netflix on their TV boxes as they do for rival French streaming services, because they have not agreed financial terms. However, Bouygues and Netflix have agreed a deal to be included on set top boxes.

A senior manager of one telecoms firm told the newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche: “We receive between 20 and 35 per cent of the revenue to distribute a service but Netflix is offering us a ridiculously small share. No operator is interested in signing now.”

Netflix will be accessible on the Internet.

giant flea market in Lille

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Rain or shine, the market takes place every year, always on the first weekend of September. The center of Lille turns into a giant pedestrian zone and nearly one million visitors come to buy, sell, barter, stroll, chat with strangers, drink beer and have a good time.  Called La Grande Braderie, (braderie comes from the verb “brader” which means “to dispose of” or “to sell off cheaply”), it’s a festive tradition in this northern city.

LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 009LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 025LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 022The sky was leaden on Saturday and the atmosphere slightly subdued. But the sun came out on Sunday.LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 042LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 010“How much for the dog?”, I asked.  He was sitting on a large postcard collection.LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 057Alpha males.LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 059This is the only item I bought for 8 euros. Its purpose is to drain rinsed strawberries, radishes, grapes, etc.  Not very exciting, I’m afraid.LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 072Here’s Martine Aubry, the Socialist mayor of Lille since 2001, much-loved by the Lillois citizens (in the middle wearing a red jacket.)LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 033And here’s the Socialist Party booth where beer and “moules-frites” are served, a speciality of the region (mussels and fries).  Up until the end of the 1970s, the major industries in Lille were coal, mining and textiles.LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 065LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 066Every year the local Communist Party puts up their booth called La Lutte Ouvrière (The Workers’ Struggle).  An anachronism.  I’m amazed that the party still survives.LILLE BRADERIE - septembre 2014 037

I walked past the booth and took a photograph.  

“Journalist?” a man asked.

“Capitalist!” I replied with a thumbs-up sign, and walked on.

the president’s ex-girlfriend

“François followed me. He tried to snatch the bag. I ran into the bedroom. He grabbed the bag and it split open. The pills scattered over the bed and the ground. I managed to recover some of them. I swallowed what I could. I wanted to sleep. I didn’t want to live the hours that would follow. I felt the storm that would break over me and didn’t have the strength to fight it.  I lost consciousness.”

No, this is not an extract from the latest Harlequin novel, but from Valérie Trierweiler’s newly-published memoir that recounts her life as First Lady during her seven months at the presidential residence, a.k.a. the Elysée Palace. The above-mentioned paragraph describes how she tried to swallow a large dose of sleeping pills after learning that her partner, the French president, François Hollande, was having an affair with another woman.

The title of the book, printed abroad and in tight secrecy, is Merci Pour Ce Moment (Thank you for this moment).

And we thought that with the departure of the feisty, charismatic Nicolas Sarkozy and his glam, ex-model wife, Carla Bruni, whose former lovers include Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Donald Trump, Vincent Perez, Laurent Fabius, Jean-Jacques Goldman and Charles Berling (just to name a few), things would die down in the political-romantic department. Apparently not.

There’s a French expression that I love.  “La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid“.  Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Ms. Trierweiler has shown us that she is indeed a cool-headed and calculating cook.  It’s been reported that she received an advance of 100,000 Euros from her publisher, with the promise of lots more to come.

Here’s what the French press is calling the book -

“un assassinat politique” (a political assassination)

“un livre choc” (an explosive book)

“la bombe Treirweiler”  (the Trierweiler bomb)

And this absurdity coming from a TV journalist on today’s lunch hour news -

“Not only is François Hollande fighting a battle against Syria and ISIS in Iraq, he now has to battle the fall-out from this book.”

Oh, come on!

It’s a laugh a minute here in Paris.

To change the subject entirely, here’s a link that Beth Kaplan just sent me from Toronto. Click on it for a lovely surprise -


last photos of London plus East London’s Whitechapel Gallery

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Hello readers.  This is my 6th and final London post.  You’re probably tired of reading about London….but you shouldn’t be!  Because as the 18th century English writer, Samuel Johnson, wrote -

“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London.  When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

And it’s true.  Personally, I find London infinitely more stimulating, dynamic, service-oriented and rich in variety and cultural interest than Paris.  But it’s huge.  And expensive. And so, for someone who does not earn a big salary nor own a London flat, Paris is cheaper and easier to live in on a day to day basis.  Thanks to the Eurostar, however, I can pop back and forth whenever I please. The journey (under the English Channel) takes just over 2 hours.  When you arrive in London at the magnificent St Pancras international train station (after 6 years of renovation at a cost of £800 million), you’ll need a travel pass for getting around on the bus and tube (subway) network. Transportation is expensive. The best deal I found was to purchase an Oyster travel card for one week which gave me unlimited bus and tube travel.  You pay a £5 deposit for an Oyster card and when you leave, you return the card and the £5 is refunded.  Including the deposit, I paid £31.40 for 7 days’ unlimited travel in Zones 1 and 2 of Central London. The further out of Central London you wish to travel, the more you pay. 7 days’ unlimited travel in Zones 1 to 4, for example, costs £45.

I’d like to dispel a myth about food being bland or dull in England.  Not true! Those days are long gone. I have eaten far better in London than I have in Paris or elsewhere in France.  There was a culinary revolution throughout Britain in the 1990s and today London boasts an unparalleled excellence in gastronomic heritage and diversity. Thanks to multiculturalism and what I call an inventive-inclusive mindset (which I do not find in Paris), the staggering array of food options – not only in choice of restaurant, but in mainstream supermarkets, street food and outdoor markets – is jaw-dropping. London is undoubtedly one of the most ethnically-diverse cities in the world.  It is a very exciting place to be.

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I would love to have a peek inside these apartments above.  A lane of cute mews houses in Chelsea below.

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The best way to see London is from the top of a double-decker bus. But hang on real tight to the railings as you’re climbing up the stairs (while the bus is in motion).  I nearly fell backwards and tumbled down the stairs when the bus lurched.  Oh, another potential danger – don’t forget to look in the opposite direction when crossing the road!

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The East End. I didn’t have much time to visit London’s East End, but will do so on my next trip.  I did, however, want to see a renowned public art gallery called the Whitechapel Gallery, so I jumped on the underground and got off at Aldgate East tube stop.

Founded in 1901 as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London, it has a long track record for education and outreach projects, now focused on the Whitechapel area’s deprived populations. It exhibits the work of contemporary artists, as well as organising retrospective exhibitions and shows that are of interest to the local community. In 1938 the Whitechapel Gallery exhibited Pablo Picasso‘s Guernica to protest the Spanish Civil War.  

For over a century the Whitechapel Gallery has premiered world-class artists from modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo to contemporaries such as Sophie Calle, Lucian Freud, Gilbert and George and Mark Wallinger.

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It’s a beautiful building.  Admission is free and I highly recommend that you visit.  Aside from the exhibitions, there’s a pleasant cake and coffee shop where you can sit and rest your weary feet (my feet really were weary after walking 6 hours a day). Leaving the building, I turned right onto Whitechapel High Street in this somewhat rough and tumble neighbourhood with the intention of finding Old Spitalfields Market.  But I got lost.  The East End of London is not easy to navigate, and I suggest you go in with a good map. Group walking tours are also popular. Here’s a brief history of the area -

Successive waves of foreign immigration began with Huguenot refugees creating a new suburb in Spitalfields in the 17th century. They were followed by Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews and, in the 20th century, Bangladeshis. Many of these immigrants worked in the clothing industry. The abundance of semi- and unskilled labour led to low wages and poor conditions throughout the East End. This brought the attentions of social reformers during the mid-18th century and led to the formation of unions and workers associations at the end of the century.

LONDON August 2014 330Here are some of the (renovated) Huguenot houses that I stumbled upon on Princelet Street, just off Commercial Street.

The Second World War devastated much of the East End, with its docks, railways and industry leading to dispersal of the population to new suburbs and new housing being built in the 1950s.  The closure of the last of the East End docks in the Port of London in 1980 created further challenges and led to attempts at regeneration and the formation of the London Docklands Development Corporation. The Canary Wharf development, improved infrastructure, and the Olympic Park mean that the East End is undergoing further change, but some parts continue to contain some of the worst poverty in Britain.

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Bye for now.  I’ll be back.  (I love London)  Below are some links to alternative walking tours and other places of cultural interest in the East End as well as a highly recommended and inexpensive hotel.

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The Dennis Severs’ House is a “still-life drama” of an “historical imagination” of what life would have been like inside for a family of Huguenot silk weavers.

This non-conventional hotel situated in the East End was recommended to me by a work colleague who says she loves it and has been going for 6 years.  She says it’s impeccably clean, welcoming and centrally located.  I have not been, but will try it on my next trip. Actually, I don’t find the prices that low.

Here’s my old standby, The Penn Club, in Bloomsbury where the prices really are low considering the gorgeous neighbourhood you’re in.  There are no lifts (elevators).


My London – Bloomsbury

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This woman could be a modern-day Virginia Woolf.  Hangin’ out, barefoot, in a coffee shop while working on a novel and consulting her iPhone.  Because, historically, Bloomsbury is associated with artists, writers and intellectuals who lived an avant-garde, bohemian lifestyle during the first half of the 20th century.

The Bloomsbury Group was an influential group of English writers, philosophers and artists, the best known included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey. This loose collective of friends and relatives lived, worked or studied together near Bloomsbury, London.  Although its members denied being a group in any formal sense, they were united by an abiding belief in the importance of the arts. (Wikipedia)

“Bohemia is not a place – it’s a state of mind.  A commitment to live with your own sense of values, your own freedom and independence.  To emancipate yourself from the herd and from its well-worn paths.”

I think I’m a bohemian or, if not, I aspire to becoming one.

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There are many advantages to staying in or visiting this charming neighbourhood. Firstly, when you arrive, as I do, at St. Pancras train station from Paris on the Eurostar, it’s a mere 20-minute walk from St. Pancras to Bloomsbury. And walk I do. To my favourite small hotel, The Penn Club. The Penn Club operates in accordance with Quaker ideals and provides quiet, comfortable and secure surroundings for members and guests.

I stayed only one night at The Penn Club before moving across town to another place in South Kensington.

The stairs are a bit creaky and the place may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I like its location and its coziness.  And did I mention their amazing breakfasts (included in the price of the room??)  There’s a quiet reading room called The Cadbury Room (because the founder of Cadbury chocolates was a Quaker), a communal TV room and a breakfast room where you can sit on your own or at a communal table. On my first morning in London, I sat across from the nicest Englishman who introduced himself, told me he was heading up to Scotland on holiday and that he was a teacher (and a widower.) Over our respective porridges followed by a plate of bacon, sausage and scrambled egg, whole-wheat hot buttered toast and delicious coffee, we talked for well over an hour about numerous topics.

“Gosh, Englishmen are nice,” I said to myself after he had left.  “I should get myself one.”

From the hotel, the British Museum is a mere 5-minute walk.  Free to all visitors and open every day, it houses a vast collection of world art and artefacts.  To not visit this important museum would be a shame.  Russell Square station is the closest tube station. 

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Bloomsbury contains some of London’s finest parks and buildings, and is particularly known for its formal squares which include Russell Square, Bedford Square and Gordon Square.  This is where Virginia Woolf lived briefly, at number 46 (she moved around a lot.)  I love wandering around gazing at the architecture, sitting in the lovely parks and visiting my favourite shops on Marchmont Street.  Bloomsbury has a nice vibe; very nice.

LONDON August 2014 065LONDON August 2014 032LONDON August 2014 060There’s an excellent health store and organic café called Alara at 58-60 Marchmont Street where I ate a delicious vegetarian cheesy lasagna for lunch, a big leafy salad and a blood-red, freshly-made juice called Fatigue Fighter, made from apple, celery, beetroot and ginger root.LONDON August 2014 022Up the road at number 82, this used book store is worth visiting.  Directly across is Fork where I took the above photo of the woman sitting on the window seat.LONDON August 2014 011LONDON August 2014 014

And I’m saving the best for last!  You wouldn’t know it (now you do, thanks to this blog post), but behind this unassuming store front with the rather dreary name (photo below), hides a tea and cake shop that serves seriously delicious cakes, the best I have ever tasted. Two years ago I ate a generous slice of orange marmalade cake.  I still think about it.  It was served with a delicately-perfumed China rose petal leaf tea.  They also do a dark chocolate and sea-salt cake with kumquat jam as well as other delights.  They do lunch too.  There’s a snag, however. The place is small and when I went I couldn’t get in, it was jam-packed (pardon the pun). Try going during the week or before or after the busy lunch hour.  The address is 14 Bury Place, steps away from the British Museum.

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