June 30, 2012

Finally, we have found the summer!

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.”
Charles Bowden

Finally after weeks and weeks of endless gray skies and even more rain, low temperatures and dark clouds at noon, we have fled the city of lights heading south in search of some sunshine.

It seems the heatwave that hit Spain earlier this week is heading towards Switzerland but that is a minor detail, we'll just keep following it. For the time being we are enjoying our homebase in Madrid and I will not be moving until I have my usual summer suntan back! Then I'll follow the weather towards Lugano and endulge in some barbecued servelat or luganighetta with rösti and a scrumptious mousse au chocolat.

Happy Summer Holidays!

June 28, 2012

A true friend

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.”

Growing up in Switzerland I had two girlfriends who have been by my side all my life.

I was fine with that. It was all I needed.

Naturally they were both only half-Swiss! We had our foreign origins in common and knew we would never fit in completely, no matter how hard we tried. We grew up and the Latina married a Latino, the English married a Brit and I chose to be swept off my feet by an Italian. Over the years we criss-crossed the globe but we never lost touch.

I was fine with that. It was all I needed.

For twenty years I was convinced that only my childhood friends could touch that part of my heart deep down and that two was enough.

Through my Expat travels I have learnt that my heart has much more space than I could have ever imagined. Again and again I have left behind two "sisters" in Geneva, in Buenos Aires, in Madrid and in Lugano just to find yet a new one in Paris.

Today she is leaving me behind but you know what... she didn't know she had that space in her heart either... until today!

June 26, 2012

How to prove you are your childrens' parents

Reminder to self: NEVER AGAIN fly through Florence airport during high season! The flight was delayed three hours on the way out and eventually rerouted to Pisa due to an improvised last-minute Florentine airstrike.

Pisa, you are joking???? Just let me check on my i-phone GPS were we are. Oh, I forgot my connection does not work because Orange France cuts off my internet connection everytime I go 50.-Euros over my limit eventhough they posess all my bank details and we need to have a "friendly" chat about it at least once a month.

We eventually got to Florence thanks to a great and loyal friend who came to pick us up at 1o'clock in the morning at Pisa airport.

For some reason still unclear to me you cannot check-in online at Florence airport and therefore - on our trip back to Paris - we needed to stand in endless queues because heavens forbid if they'd have to open more than one counter!

60 minutes later the lady behind the check-in counter kindly informs my husband and I that we cannot leave Italian territory with our children since our names do not figure on their passports! Come again?!? I don't think I understood that part?!? I turn around and ask Expat girl: "How many times do we take a plane a year?" My 9 year-old responds non-chalantly: "About 500 times, Mummy". Nobody has ever stopped me from travelling with my kids! "I can call the authorities" suggests the lady. "Now, that is a brilliant idea, because if you don't I will! I would love to have a chat with the Italian authorities!"

Expat hubby who knows there is no stopping his wife once she is on a roll - no matter in which language - by now knows very well wbere this is heading. Apparently the new law (When exactly did this new law happen, Signora? Ah, 3 years ago! Hmmmm, interesting!!!) requires parents to prove that they are really the parents. Remind me please what we need passports for in that case? Was is not to prove our identites? "So, are you gonna make that call or not lady?"

But wait, maybe I can confuse her by flicking out my Swiss passports, if we're not Italian than it's not our problem, right?
Wrong! That trick didn't work but worth a try I believe. The Swiss will save you no matter how sticky the situation! THE SWISS!

The check-in lady informs us after a short telephone call that the law has changed as of June 26th and that we are allowed to check-in as our children's lawful parents. But wait a minute, wasn't June 26th the day after TOMORROW. I don't think I'll argue with her on this one!

Buon viaggio!

June 16, 2012

A walk in the park

Yesterday we managed to muster an impressive group of over 40 ladies for walk through the Tuileries park. This in itself is not such an extraordinary feat unless you consider we were representing probably over 25 nationalities. What is our common ground? Our kids, of course! And our love for Paris.

We started our Tuileries Garden tour at the lovely church of St Germain l’Auxerrois, where royalty worshipped. We learnt of the legend of Catherine de Medici's curse. We walked onto Pont des Arts to peak at the thousands of lovers' locks who have vowed their love forever by throwing the key of their locks into the river Seine.

We strolled through the Louvre courtyards listening to our superb guide revealing it’s history as a palace while including all kinds of juicy gossip.

We admired the Arch of Carrousel which had once been the entrance gateway to Napoleon’s palace. We contemplated on the site of the Tuileries palace, with it’s history (Catherine de Medici, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon and Josephine) and the fire that destroyed it during the Commune. We were taken in by anectodes of kings and princes who have enjoyed the gardens, and some wild parties. We relived many exciting episodes of the Revolution, the first hot air balloon ride, Thomas Jefferson who came here to admire the Hotel de Salm and the dramatic escape of Napoleon III.

At the end of the day, I was just happy to be strolling through a park in the beautiful sunshine given that we have been experiencing a very wet and dull spring in Paris. Have a seat and join me before it starts pouring again!

June 13, 2012

A lesson in Sushi

“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few”
Shunryu Suzuki

One of the advantages about living in Paris is that there are more sushi restaurants than Pizzerias in this town. Expat daughter loves sushi, Expat boy hates it and my hubby has come around after 15 years of hard persuasion and is starting to take pleasure in this Japanese delicacy.

So I leaped at the opportunity when my Japanese connection, Ms Communication, suggested a hands-on MAKIMONO (rolled) SUSHI lesson and a demo on how to prepare sushi rice & cucumber wakame vinaigrette salad. This was to be followed by a lecture on sushi etiquette while enjoying chef Kino-san's sushi. WOW!

I was the first to sign up (along with Ms Organized of course) and we had a blast. Ms Communication did an excellent job of translating all of Kino-san's explainations and suggestions. No matter how hard I concentrated I could not understand a word of Japanese. But it was fun watching the bubbly and confident chef move his hands speedily in and out the gigantic rice bowl formatting all different kinds of sushi, Nigiri-zushi (hand shaped sushi), Oshi-zushi (pressed sushi), Maki-zushi (rolled sushi) and Chirashi-zushi (scattered sushi). Choping, cutting, dipping, splashing, composing and shaping this Japanese culinary art with delicious flavor and colorful form.

Kino-san's secret combination of rice.

Washing and soaking the rice before ...

...boiling it in the rice cooker...

...adding a litle sushi vinegar...

...and mixing the rice well.

An eely appetizer in the meantime...

... followed by a seaweed soup with egg to keep us going!

Years ago, one could not practice this art form without a minimum of 10 years of training and proven skill.  Now, due to the growing need, restaurants will hire sushi chefs with just a few years of learning experience.  But sushi is about culinary expertise and an Itamae-San (expert chef) continually strives to master his skill while performing for the delight of the patron and serving an array of bright colors, mouthwatering tastes and tingling sensations. Kino-san has it all!

Fish as fresh as it comes

Perfect Makimono sushi prepared by Kino-san.

Then it was our turn with a little help from our friend...

As for the Sushi etiquette: we learnt that Nigiri-zushi is traditionally eaten with the fingers, even in formal settings.
Soy sauce is the usual condiment - uff, we got that right. Traditional etiquette suggests that the sushi is turned over so that only the topping is dipped; this is because the soy sauce is for flavoring the topping, not the rice, and because the rice would absorb too much soy sauce and would fall apart - that was news to all of us apprentices.
Further NEVER "whittle" your chopsticks.  If you have to, do it under the table so the chef can't see you!  Doing so implies that the chef is cheap.
If you use your chopsticks to pick at a communal dish, use the back end of your chopsticks.  Never pass a piece of food with your chopsticks to another person's chopsticks, as this maneuver is reserved for handling cremated bones.

Most importantly, the best compliment you can give a sushi chef is to comment him on his rice! Good sushi comes from good rice!

I'd like to believe that Kino-san enjoyed our company as much as we did his. He certainly was very patient in answering all our questions. In future I will remember to ask the chef for a fish recommendation.  Fish is a seasonal animal, and the catch of the day will vary throughout the year.  Asking the chef for his opinion not only shows that you respect him, but will likely get you top-quality sushi.

In the meantime I will take home my (not-so-perfect) maki-zushi masterpieces to impress my loved ones! Itadakimasu!

June 12, 2012

A RDV at La Defense

“All architecture is shelter, all great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space.”
Philip Johnson

June 6, 2012

La Grande Mosquée de Paris

“It is from the quiet and secluded scene of beauty found in the Arabian court-garden that Arabic poetry traces its beginnings.”
Kamel Louafi

La Grand Mosquée de Paris sounds impressive, majestic and most of all ... exotic! I love exotic. I love intruiging ... and to me Africa has always been synonym to all of the above, no matter which part of this vast and diverse continent. Therefore, la Grand Mosquée de Paris was not only on Newsweek's 100 places to visit but also one of my personal favourites.

We took off not expecting much but were transported into another world. Coming around the corner on rue Daubenton la Grande Mosquee lay out infront of us as if it had been beamed straight from Northern Africa and dropped in Paris. This beautiful white marble mosque was built in 1922 to honor the North African countries that had given aid to France during World War I.

We ventured into a little garden with mosaique walls, walked past an enticing showcase of scrumptious looking pastries straight to our destination: the Hammam. We were transported back in time and space.

We advanced through the tranquil arcades and  high ceilings decorated in the style of Moorish Spain. Greeted by a woman mumbling something in Arabic we decided to go for the whole package: Steambath, black-soap scrub and a 20-minute massage with a Mint Tea finale.

The Hammam seemed like a little labyrinth leading to a main hall with seperate compartments where groups of women sat chatting letting the steam and sweat drop off along with all the stress and tension of the outside world. After a short scrub by an Arab lady who didn't speak a word of French I surrendered to the hands of yet another Arab woman who has seen more bodies than she could ever count, estimate or even want to guess. Lying on the massage table, I felt more like a cat sitting on the woman's lap and getting a vigorous stroke. Although her hands were working my body her mind was miles away. She was happily chatting with the first two women in Arabic. Oh, how I wish I could understand what she was saying. I always wanted to learn Arabic. Maybe one day we'll move to Tunis, Dubai or Beirut and I will have a new challenge?!

June 4, 2012

A rainy day in Paris

“Whether the weather be fine, Whether the weather be not, Whether the weather be cold, Whether the weather be hot, We'll weather the weather, Whatever the whether, Whether we like it or not”

Honestly, if you ask me Paris weather is on a par with British weather. The only difference being that the French don't talk about it! It does allow for some good photographs though. 

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