January 30, 2014

"Think before you share"

Help, I am without my passport, no phone and the camera is gone! No, I have not been robbed just searched at the entrance of the Embassy. It seems like a feat I got passed the first gendarme outside the building who did not seem to speak proper English nor French. In many other countries I would not dare to leave my passport with the personnel at the entrance and right now I feel like I'm the suspect rather than a simple visitor. However, these are the rules and the security staff do not look like they are to be messed with.

This leaves me without my i-phone to take notes and I cannot take pictures either. It hits me how essential these two items are for fast and effective blogging. I am lost without my devices!

So, here I am sitting in the cafeteria (taking notes) invited by a friend to participate at the Embassy's "Brown Bag Lunch on Social Media" where an expert was to give us an overview of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Not quite sure what to expect, it turned out I was probably NOT her target audience due to my relatively tight grasp on social medias. She shared her industry knowledge on various topics including: functionality, usage, privacy, and safety for parents with children using social media.

It seems that social media is the buzz word of the moment, at least this end of the pond, even the kids' school had an info session on social media safety this week. Again, it was not very enlightening. Then again, how DO you teach your kids about these communication behaviors? How do you encourage them to use the internet as a tool and how CAN you protect them from the bad things lurking out there?

January 29, 2014

January 28, 2014

Attention, j'arrive!!!

I speak Italian, I eat Italian but most of all I DRIVE Italian. This has come in very handy many a times. French drivers take one look at my huge stationwagon with a foreign number plate. While driving they challenge you by eye contact and at this point I KNOW that they are thinking: "Ha, a women driver!". THAT gets the beast in me is aroused.... I love to drive. And given that we live down the road of the Arc de Triomphe I have the pleasure of driving round the Place de l'Etoile nearly every day, Paris' largest road junction.

Now, this is even a challenge for me. So the first time I ventured around it in my car I took a deep breath, pumped up the volume on my Energy radio station and shouted "Yiheaaaaaaaa!" My kids took one look at me and I knew they were thinking: "Mummy's lost it! She has gone into overdrive. Too many French made her go crazy." I could see their worried faces but at the same time they could not hide the excitement in their eyes. This was going to be a ride they would not forget.

And guess what? It worked. Driving fast enough (but not too fast), aggressively pushing forward (in a way you can only manage if you know your car's dimensions down to the centimeter) and keeping a VERY cautious eye to the right, to the left, in front AND behind, the tactic works to perfection. I steered straight into the center of the roundabout hugging the Arc de Triomph (avoiding the tourist buses which drive at 2 miles and hour) and went round twice. The kids were having a ball in the back.

The tricky bit is getting back out and onto one of the twelve straight avenues including the Champs-Élysées. Luckily French drivers stick indubitably to the rule of right-hand drivers have straight-away which helps avoiding accidents.

Place de l'Etoile at night

There is an urban myth that motor insurance companies will not cover driving around the Étoile, which is not strictly true. Insurance companies generally cover motor accidents only on the Étoile under a knock-for-knock agreement, whereby each insurance company will pay for losses by its own policyholder, provided that the other party's insurance company agrees to do the same for the other policyholder.

So, next time you go around a round-about, shout "Yihaaaa" and think of me navigating around the Place de l'Etoile.

View from the top of Arc de Triomphe 
down Champs Elysées

January 26, 2014

Third year running...

It has been two years but it seems like yesterday that I decided to go for a run under the pouring rain just to prove my lovely Triathlon friend wrong. I was not going to use the rain as an excuse not to jog, otherwise, when would I ever get to exercise in this city? I could never resist a good challenge: it pushed me to run under the gray skies of Paris as well as to discover my love for Bikram yoga.

I will not bore you with all the details. I have used the MapMyRun app about five times in these two years which tells me that I roughly run 4km from school drop-off to home four times a week. It is not about the numbers, however. I have come to appreciate my morning run all by myself. It allows me to confront those thousands of tourists traipsing about town and it puts a smile on my face even when I'm feeling a little grumpy. The Bois de Boulogne has become a little oasis in this metropole and every day it presents itself with a slightly different facet.

My steady companion is not a personal trainer but my Scandinavian crime audio books to which I am hooked and which keep me running even through the snow in winter. I have my gear down to a tee since I hate the cold, all colour coordinated, my friends would not expect anything less from me. Needless to say, the bonus are the sapeurs pompiers (firefighters) who happened to work out in the same place at the same time as I. Who said I couldn't indulge in some eye candy while panting my lungs out?

January 25, 2014

Meet Yves Saint Laurent

It was a like stepping back into the 70's in the middle of Paris in 2014. I was standing inside Yves Saint Laurent's studio where the great couturier had sketched and created his ideas, gave orders to his seamstresses and chose his models between 1974 and 2002. Although the fashion house had been created in 1962 it wasn't until 12 years later that they moved into this townhouse of the Second Empire period which today houses the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation.

Our guide, Madame Clementine, was full of enticing anecdotes while presenting several original sketches on which we were able to read the annotations of Mr. Saint Laurent destined for the workshop. Emblematic haute couture prototypes were unveiled for us. I dare believe I remember the sequin embroidered jacket in honour of Van Gogh's Irises, that cost as much as a small apartment in Paris at the time.

Thanks to the rich library before the bibles of the YSL collection, and the explanation of our private guide we were able understand the functioning of Pierre Berger and YSL fashion house. It was Mr Berger's idea - right from the start of his collaboration with M. Saint Laurent - to keep the sketches and material samples and its thanks to him that the Foundation Yves Saint Laurent continues to thrive.

The beginning of YSL's career, however, is thanks to M.Christian Dior who discovered him as a young and talented teenager. Yves Saint Laurent became his assistant for three years and later became head designer for a further three years after M. Dior passed away.

Until this day, if you look carefully at YSL work desk you will find a dressmakers wood meter and a walking stick. No, they were not his own but belonged to Monsieur Christian Dior, his grand maître, a man who was identified with good taste, the art of living and refined culture that epitomises Paris to the outside world.

January 21, 2014

The jeweller of kings

In France, luxury is not about monetary value, rather it is about the time, skill and the vision it takes to create an object. That it may happen to be created using rare and expensive materials that few can afford is not the point. Craft is a major art form. So there is no place better suited to staging one of the first ever public gallery exhibitions of fine jewellery than the Grand Palais in Paris.

"Cartier: Style and History" took over Paris' Grand Palais, showcasing the French house's magnificent archives as jewelled reflections of the changing times. The display spanned more than a century from the French maison's birth in 1847, via its description by Edward VII as "the jeweller of kings, and the king of jewellers", up until the 1970s. 

Undaunted by wars, economic depression and upheaval, the exhibition revealed that when the going gets tough, the world's royals, heiresses, socialites, bankers' wives, celebrities and even maharajas get shopping for sparklers.

Skipping the line at the Grand Palais

Cartieroscope 2013: living frescos thanks to contemporary, digital technologies 
of projection and animation.

Tiaras of the last 100 years

Model ordered for Cartier's 100th anniversary: the interior boutique at 9, Blvd des Italiens

Pink cigarette box, cufflinks and buttons

 Ceremoninal Indian necklace composed of 2930 diamonds and two rubies and at its center a De Beers yellow stone diamond of 234.65 carats.

Elegant jewels commissioned for Princess Grace of Monaco.

Snake necklace as a special order for Maria Felix with 2473 diamonds.

True to her mantra, would-be royal Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, stated that "if you can afford it then there's no pleasure buying it". Simpson – exiled to Paris with little apparent source of income – set about making what the curators describe as "particularly extravagant orders": a three-dimensional diamond-encrusted panther atop a perfectly round sapphire larger than a hazelnut.

January 19, 2014

It's a surprise!

A surprise birthday party... but not for the birthday girl ... it was she who was to surprise her guests. What a brilliant idea?! All we knew, is that we had to be on time, Swiss timing, not Italian. We were summoned to a charming little Italian restaurant at the foot of the Eiffel Tower at 8 o'clock sharp to enjoy a sumptuous meal where the local Southern Italian dishes just kept streaming out of the kitchen and onto our table.

Needless to say I had gotten the dress code all wrong. After having miss-interpreted the last Italian party as a bell-bottom, platform shoes and big hair do - just because the invitation had said disco music - I decided to tone down my attire even though the dress code mentioned glitter and colour and went with a purple ensemble and black high-healed platforms. I was the ONLY one NOT wearing sparkly sequins and glitter...darn! And I looooooove sequins and glitter!

After dinner we headed towards the Eiffel tower still without a clue what our birthday girl had next in store for us. Were we to ogle a cabaret show or climb the Eiffel tower at night?

Lo and behold underneath the Eiffel Tower was a Disco bus with dazzling pink interior waiting for us. A DISCO BUS. How cool is that? Ever since we arrived in Paris 2 1/2 years ago and I saw one of those buses pass by below our apartment on the first Saturday night after we had moved in, I wanted to board a swaying, obscured windows, slow-moving, driving music box. Tonight was my chance thanks to the amazing invitation by my Roman friend.

We stepped into a vivid, gleaming, luminous, radiant, luminescent bus with padded seat benches along both sides. Little compartments holding champagne glasses were niched in the armrests. The DJ was well-prepared and between 80's disco beat and Italian canzoni kept us boogying while we drove through the city of lights. Little did we take in of the outside world - thus is the luxury of actually living in this city - so we could have fun together dancing and taking pictures.

However, the best picture will stay in our hearts and not in our camera thanks to the exceptional surprise that none of us guests will ever forget. I now seriously need to plan for my next big birthday party...

Pit stop at Place Vendôme for the birthday cake

January 15, 2014

Four months down the lane ... two years later!

"A new year, a new start! It has been four months since we've arrived in Paris. All our belongings have found their place in our new home, the various satellite broadcasting systems installed, the curtains & lights are up, the local supermarket, bakery and postoffice have been located. I found a hip hop class for my daughter, a football team for my son and a gym class for myself. We have made new friends and still miss our "old" ones but have definately moved on. Yet another chapter has begun and we are writing it (literally) as we go along."

This is a post I had started two years ago but somehow never got around to finishing. I stumbled across it today and decided to pick up where I left off.

The apartment still looks exactly the same but the inhabitants have changed. They have evolved, matured, assimilated and are still digesting their not-so-new way-of-life. They have acquired knowledge about their host country, made friends with locals and learnt a new language. They are still working on the French attitude.

My feeling is that we are pretty much in the middle of the book right now and have lived through quite a few chapters since I wrote the above. Somehow, this assignment has turned out to be longer than expected. This is not a bad thing. For the first time after two and a half years in Paris - my family returned to the flat after the Christmas holidays - it finally felt like coming home. If I am totally honest it still isn't home-home but I do see the familiar gestures that have become habits and I can detect little things that reveal my kids and I have carved ourselves our niche in this city. We have reached the point where Paris will always be a part of our life, no matter when or where we move onto from here. The children will always know their way around this city and the longer we stay the more it will become home for them.

My poor hubby on the other hand just keeps working and working and working away. I am trying to carve his niche for him since he can't find enough hours in the day. No matter how long he'll be pursuing his career across the globe, for my Neapolitan "Amore" Switzerland will always feel like home.

January 14, 2014

A hug on Saturday night at Bercy

What to give a husband for Christmas who has everything and needs nothing? This year I decided to make the most of what Paris has to offer by presenting him with a night out at Bercy Stadium to see Michael Bublé croon his way into Parisian hearts.

I have done many a reservation online - some with more successful seating arrangements than others. This time I had lucked out and got it right. We were upfront in the center with a nearly perfect view onto the stage. Having convinced hubby that the metro was the fastest way to get across town, he rapidly regained his composure with a glass of bubbly which we thoroughly enjoyed as a prelude to our concert experience.

I must admit - with the exception of a Ricky Martin concert with my "Sex in the City" girlfriends a few years back - I had not been to a pop concert in decades. So far back that I remember using lighters rather than mobile phones as romantic backdrop to a slow song. Oh dear, that really DOES date me.

Anyways, we were blown away by the "warm-up" group called Naturally 7, a cappella style band who sang R&B with extensive beatboxing called "Vocal Play". How does a person manage to improvise a base that you can feel in your chest as if it were a real electric instrument? Mind-blowing! They had 17'000 spectators standing and dancing within 15 minutes. These are guys whom six years ago were singing in Paris' metro.

By the time Michael Bublé glided on stage - literally - the audience was on roll. Before even starting he had spotted a sign saying "A hug for me on Saturday night at Bercy" He actually descended down into the audience and gave the lady a big bear hug. And with that gesture, he had captured the stadium wholeheartedly. He went though his repertoire of classic croons and managed to take us all on his journey across time.

I do hate when the artists fiddle around with their earpiece while singing, another fact that has changed since I last went to a concert. When at the end of the concert, Michael Bublé ripped out both his earpieces, put away his microphone and began to sing in front of the entire stadium without vocals nor instruments he had us roaring at first but then not a sound was heard apart from his voice. Now that's what I call a true singer!

Needless to say, on the way home - after a truly romantic concert - the metro broke down and hubby got to take the taxi after all!

January 10, 2014

Just like home...

It has been a while... but I am back WITH a tan I might add. This will undoubtedly help me through the next couple of weeks (or months) of Parisian grey drizzle. But let's not get ahead of ourselves!

My return to reality was made so much sweeter by an "old" friend passing through town. I must admit Paris is great for catching up with friends from abroad, they all seem to come back to the city of lights sooner or later. No one ever happened to pop by when we lived in Lugano?!

My intellectual Flaneuse friend was waiting for me at her usual corner, this time without her faithful little follower, her dog. She turned just as I was walking up to her and I could see her face light up just as mine probably did in that moment. Nothing beats a big bear hug, restoring the connection of your friendship and the feeling as if you have just left each other a few days ago.

I don't know how we do it. This feeling of immediate connection is very difficult to explain. I believe it is a gift that Expats either are born with or learn as they travel through the world. Having to make new friends, people you can count on in foreign environments, families that you share unforgettable experiences with - big and small - human beings who open themselves up faster than they might like to in a local situation, but whom - when they leave - take a piece of you with them.

I have remained in Paris but I feel as if I'm visiting a bit of Stockholm, tasting a bite of Istanbul, exploring a slice of Kuala Lumpur, freezing a little in Michigan, remembering places in Milano and discovering sites in Rome through keeping up with my Flaneuse friends.

And once in while one of them comes back to Paris to visit and it feels just like home again...

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