Monday, December 24, 2012

Joyeux Noël*!*!*!

          You are, and perhaps it's my American tendency toward hyperbole -- but so be it -- I feel as if in this case it's understatement, you are truly the gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving. What more could one ask in this life than the joy you bring every day?

          I can never thank you enough for visiting, commenting, caring. You are precious to me.

          In the truest, purest sense of the season then, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you peace, love, joy and contentment.

           *Joyeux Noël, my dear friends.*

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A French Country Weerkend

A gorgeous herb wreath punctuated with kumquats (!)
          As one of you told me (anonymously) a month or so ago, "enough already" with your fruit eating and wish making. Knowing you, I thought you were too polite and kind to come right out and say I was annoying you with a boring subject, so I kept on wishing and consuming my fruits in silence.

         You know the French "tradition." For every fruit one eats for the first time in a calendar year, we can make a wish. I was doing that with a frenzy you may recall and was, I must admit, starting to run out of fruits. I had decided today I would buy a few kumquats and then look forward to 2013 so I could eat an apple.

         However! My wish came true even before I stocked up on kumquats. I'll tell you about it sometime in the new year; I promise. All I can say now is, this will be our best Christmas ever. I may say that every year, as Andrea points out, but, really, trust me on this; it is.

         Weather report: more rotten rain resulting in one very large wet dog and it appears, unfortunately, no snow on the horizon for Paris and our part of the country. Sun is predicted for Monday, so all is well.

          A demain mes très, très, très chers amis and thank you for reading and writing.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Stockings for The Man Who Has Everything

 Ed. Note: Today's beautifully written, funny, must-read post is by Will Fletcher -- lawyer, writer, and, not incidentally, my son-in-law. 

          Show me a man who thinks he’s got everything and I’ll show you a man who’s overlooking something.

         I remember a documentary about the billionaire oilman J. Paul Getty.  He opened a museum on 64 acres in Los Angeles in 1974. The 105,00o sq. ft. building is a re-imagination of the Villa of Papyri, the residence of Caesar’s father-in-law that was nestled halfway up the slope of Mount Vesuvius. The “Getty Villa” was constructed because J. Paul’s personal art collection (comprised mainly of Renaissance and Baroque period paintings) outgrew the wing he added to his house to showcase it. 

     Today, more than 44,000 pieces of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities dating to 6,500 B.C. reside at the Getty Villa (now the smaller of two Getty Museum locations).

         But Getty never saw the museum. You say because he died before it was completed, right? No, no, he was alive when it opened.  In 1974, Getty was a semi-recluse living in a 400 year-old mansion near London, an estate with two swimming pools, tennis courts and its own trout stream. He bought the property in 1959 for $850,000 from the Duke of Sutherland (and you know that neither man had to waste three hours at the closing). Occasionally, people from the museum visited Getty in London. 

      He closed his eyes and listened while they described the rooms to him and where all the art was placed. Isn’t that something? J. Paul sitting there in his London castle and just imagining a walk through his enormous museum on the other side of the world?  I’ve had a tailor describe what my pants would look like after taking them in a quarter-inch at the waist, but I’m guessing the experience isn’t the same.

        So, I don’t know about the hard-to-shop-for person in your life, but none of my friends would unwrap a gift and say, “Oh great, another terracotta mixing vessel from 300 B.C.” But Getty might have said that. He had everything -- so much of everything he never even saw all of it. 

      And here’s the mistake you want to avoid when shopping for the man who has everything: You’ll never get the right gift choosing from the esoterica found on the fringes of the known world. That’s where he gets all his stuff anyway. If he doesn’t have a kevlar iPad case, a Montblanc laser pointer, a coffee thermos made from the thermal tiles of a decommissioned Space Shuttle, then it’s because he’s already passed them over.

        In Getty’s last years, people whispered that his socks had holes in them. His shirts and sweaters were worn out (maybe he never visited the museum because he had nothing decent to wear. #drama #issues). But that’s a lesson: Spend your golden years looking to score a few dozen more swordsmen's helmets from the Battle of Thermopylae and your basic everyday items suffer. And what would have been good advice for any of J. Paul’s five wives is good advice for someone gift shopping for the man (who has everything) in her life – the best stocking stuffers you can find for him are very simple, everyday items. Consider these ideas:

1. Buy him a better brand of socks than he would buy for himself.

Cotton, wool or cashmere -- you're choice. Just make sure they're the up-to-the-knee model please.
        Men wear the socks with the gold stitching at the toes because they’re in  every store and we’ve always worn them – but we don’t love them. They were our first “dress up” socks and, like beer, they’re sold in packs of six. Most men have never heard of Point 6 socks. They’re the best. And after a man wears the pair he found in his stocking, he’ll dump his entire collection of gold-caps without regrets.

2.  Buy him a box of the cheap pens that he likes.

      It’s not that he didn’t love the Waterman fountain pen with crystal inkwell that you bought him years ago, it’s just that life moves very fast. I have a few of these pens, too. And I intend to use them when I finally have the time to write my memoirs on undisturbed  afternoons near the fireplace. Until that happens, I need a pen that doesn’t insist on ceremony or get offended falling to the bottom of my briefcase. 
       If you haven’t noticed his go-to pen, this list of “affordable pens geeks love” may be helpful for you.  Part of what you’re giving is the gift of always having a pen on hand, so stuff an entire box (usually 12) in the stocking. Remember not to steal the pens away from him (like my wife does!) for the obvious reason (but apparently not a deterrent) that it diminishes from the act of giving in the first place.

3. Buy him the “paramilitary” version of something he needs so he’ll actually want it.

        I’d never carry a sissy pencil case, but I don’t leave home without my Diplomat Pocket Organizer Series 2, available in drab gray or coyote brown here:  If he hasn’t taken to certain purchases you know would serve him well, look for those same things again, only next time add “tactical” or “EDC” (every day carry) to your search terms. Is he always asking you, "where are the scissors?" 

      Put a pair of these folding “tactical” scissors in his stocking and he’ll hold onto them for the rest of his life:  Voila! 

4.  Buy him the “quality” version of the thing he’s always borrowing from you.

        I have a “friend” who’s always borrowing his wife’s fingernail clippers when they travel. Her problems would be over if she splurged on this $18 pair, proudly “hailing from Seki city, a region in Japan long known for their top quality blade craftsmanship”:  Men fall for durability, “top quality,” and craftsmanship. You’ll bury him with the tactical scissors in one pocket and his Seki city clippers in the other. 

       Instead of thinking about what these cost, my “friend’s” wife should think about the peace of mind she’s buying herself knowing these samurai sword-grade clippers would stick like Velcro to my hand. My “friend’s” hand, rather.

 5.  Buy him a new wallet. 
        You already know that he doesn’t replace his wallet when you notice that it’s time for a switch. But that misshapen leathery wad that looks like a fossilized pb&j on wheat bread isn’t going away without help. We simply don’t notice that it’s all used up.  You know when men buy a new wallet? When other men tell them it’s time to buy a new wallet. 

        It’s embarrassing to have your best buddy tell you it’s time to pitch your wallet because, when he does, he uses the same voice when he says you need to pop a Tic-Tac. 

      So that’s it. The lesson is that the man who has everything probably won’t show you his socks. Focus on what he’s ignoring and you’re very likely to come up with a winning stocking stuffer. Good luck!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eat, Drink and Be Wary

Foie gras.

          French women are masters of dissimulation.  When you're at a dinner party with them you actually think they're eating as much as you are.  They never are.

        Yes, yes it's the oft-repeated portion control bit and all things in moderation, etc.  But what's so amazing is they actually seem to be having a grand time with only one flute of champagne.  Go figure.

          With all the holidays coming up I thought I would get us psychologically prepared to have more fun with less food.  My former nutritionist insisted we must never say "non" to pleasure.  O.K., works for me. 

          If we train ourselves to think like French women life is a constant battle of desire over discipline and seemingly the formula equals pleasure.  (Little secret:  I think it makes French women exceptionnellement happy to be slim and the mere idea has some kind of chemical appetite suppressant effect.  I may be wrong.)

          Let's say we decide to eat one slender slice of fois gras, the size of a deck of cards with about 30 cards left in the pack, it will take:  a one-and-a-half hour stroll; a fast one-hour walk or an intense exercise like my aqua gym class of 30 to 40 minutes to burn it off. Calories are approximately, 250 per oz. of which 220 are from fat, but from good fat (!)

          A significant problem: One cannot eat foie gras unless it sits upon something, like a piece of toast normally, i.e. more calories. I put mine on a salad of haricots verts dressed with a lovely vinaigrette.

          Now, who can have foie gras without champagne?  (For those of you who think I don't know about Sauternes and how in it is to drink with foie gras, I do know.  I hate Sauternes and it has about 30 more calories than champagne. Besides bubbles are festive.)  

The world famous Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes. Not for the budget minded.
          As I was saying, a flute of champagne -- brut obviously -- pictured above, has between 120 to 140 calories (20 calories per oz.) using the above formula for the foie gras, it would take about half as much exercise to burn off the golden liquid.  

         If I haven't potentially ruined your holidays, may I suggest you treat them the way a Frenchwoman would. Indulge within reason and make up for any disturbing variations on the scale in January. January is a rather depressing month anyway. You might as well go with the flow.

         ***All vinaigrettes, to my knowledge, work on the three-to-one principle, from that base then, the recipe from my nutritionist is (use whatever measure you need for the basic formula, here I'm using a large tablespoon): two tablespoons of oil -- one olive, one colza, one tablespoon water, one tablespoon vinegar (your choice) then the addition of herbs, salt, mustard, if you desire, is in your hands. The water helps reduce the calorie count, but you really have to whisk like crazy to get oil and water to agree to stay together. I use my battery operated whisk for frothing milk and the emulsion holds. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Stockings Hung By the Chimney: Part II

          For me, filling Christmas stockings with care is the most fun of all. You might say I'm ever so obsessive about the project. That's why I turned the adventure into a two-part mini series.

          Again today I've filled our stockings with my fantasy of what even the woman who has everything would find pleasing and if not always useful, at least fun. Once more, everything is under $50 and the sequined col Claudine (Peter Pan collar) is a mere seven Euros from C&A.

          Time is running out so we mustn't tarry. Here are a few more of my favorite ideas:

          1.) An apron, but not just any apron of course, it's a Tablier Menu pour la Table du Roy. This one is from the museum shop at Versailles and is inspired by an 18th century manuscript describing a royal menu.
          2.) The Claudine collar of silver sequins would sparkle, catch the light and throw flattering reflections upon our visages. It may be a fad, but I'm on board -- at least for one season.
          3.) Resin bangles from Satellite, they're wide and a wonderful way to add color to winter neutrals. I own them.

          4.) The ultimate luxury in shampoo from Christophe Robin the hair colorist to the stars. It smells delicious and it makes hair silky and shiny. It seems rose has marvelously mysterious powers.

          5.) The next time you have an Epiphany, why not write it down in a gorgeous blue leather notebook designed specifically for such occasions.
          6.) Granted it seems strange, but at the same time it sounds fascinating, a personal air purifier that recharges on your computer with its USB connection. It supposedly helps us ward off colds, flu, allergies while keeping unpleasant, polluted air at bay. Click here for more.

          7.) Why not? It's the season after all. Gold eye shadow from Chanel would certainly add a nice touch of gilt to a holiday ensemble, n'est-ce pas? A dab right in the center of your lower lip could lead to a very merry Christmas.
          8.) Maybe this one is "iffy"/kitschy but I'll mention it nonetheless, an iPhone cover featuring the Eiffel Tower. One could consider it another costume change for one of our most essential accessories.

         9.) Sugar, but not just any sugar. All the products from Terre Exotique are stylish and special.
        10.) Four porcelain cocktail plates by Médard de Noblat from the Musée de Porcelaine Adrein-Debouché. I've ordered them.

        11.) If you're looking for cosmetic magic, look no farther. It's in this tube of Baume Beauté Eclair from Clarins. I've been using it for six months and I promise you it gives new meaning to "a glowing complexion."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Stockings Hung By the Chimney with Care. . .

         Stockings, perhaps the most exciting part of Christmas cadeaux, are not typically part of Noêl festivities in France. I do however have a great friend who has a huge family -- and fortunately an enormous fireplace -- who has taken to the tradition with a passion to the delight of her children and now her grandchildren.

          The stockings hung by the chimney with care. . . have always been my very favorite part of the holidays. I like them because, in a way, it takes more thought to fill them with charming offerings. Each one is theoretically strategically conceived to reflect the recipient's personality, all of which made me think about that most difficult of challenges: The Woman Who Has Everything.

         I imagine all of us have one or more friends in that category and they tend to create a cadeau conundrum  when we're confronted with those "what in the world can we give her?" occasions. Clearly, we're not in competition to "keep up" with her budget possibilities and as for my friends, they would never expect excess because they are kind, thoughtful, generous and mostly blithely unaware that we would even think it could be difficult to find perfect presents for them.

         So, mes amis, that was the task I set for myself: Fill a Christmas stocking for the woman who has everything with gifts that never surpass $50 and sometimes ring in at less than $10. I'm not suggesting we would be responsible from toe to top, simply one (maybe two) special items that could be tucked within to give joy and show our affection.

         Here then, is Part I of my two-part series:
         1.) The purpose made (it glides right into a stocking) and covetable, The Night Before Christmas in Paris book by my great, great friend Betty Lou Phillips with Roblyn Herndon and illustrations by Sheryl Dickert.

         2.) Because there is a little girl in every big girl, the beyond charming Bulles d'Agathe perfume bubbles from the brilliant perfumer, Francis Kurkdjian are fun and fashionable. The fragrances come in violet, pear, cold mint and grass. The idea is to blow the bubbles and dash through them inhaling the scent as they pop in the air.

         3.) Clarins' three point eyeliner pen. It's slightly complicated to use the first time -- instructions are inside the box -- and requires a tiny bit of practice, but once you've learned the technique there is no turning back. The concept is so ingenious that it redefines, literally, everything we have ever thought about the process.

         4.) Poudre Universelle Libre, Réverie, by Chanel. What could be more festive than a dusting of light reflecting gold and silver powder?

         5.) Pate a tartiner Pietra by Pierre Hermé -- it's sort of like an intensely chic version of Nutella from one of the world's most talented chocolate makers  and, many contend, the king of macaroons.

        6.)  "Le Premeur" a calendar of fruits and vegetables which tells us what produce is grown in which season and therefore leads us to the best quality choices. It saves us from eating raspberries in December that taste like the carton in which they were so enticingly displayed for example.
       7.) Just for fun, and Coco Chanel would approve, a pair of "gold" hand-wire wrapped earrings with small hemalite beads and smokey quartz teardrops from my friend Marsha at Splenderosa. Remember, when they're worn by the woman who has everything, everyone will naturally assume they're precious pieces.
       8.)  Nars Jungle Red nail polish -- rich, red and daring. (I received it as a gift from a dear friend and have a pedicure appointment on Thursday to have it applied. Can't wait.)

      9.) One or two shooting star hair combs, brass with a wash of gold something-or-other. Take my word for it, they're glamorous.

    10.) Guerlain's beyond chic lipstick with its built-in mirror. It has heft, style and the magic "click" that tells a woman, "this is pure luxury."

    A demain for the second installment.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A French Country Weekend

          Rotten, rainy, windy weather. . . however, the wreaths are on the doors, the tree is waiting to be decorated (drying off in the garage), obscenely sumptuous chocolate dessert ordered from Clarisse whose husband was formerly at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, there's a fire in the fireplace, Diptyque candles are scattered about, so. . . let it rain, let it rain, let it rain. . .

I highly recommend my latest discovery, Baies.
          I'm venturing out with my candles. Normally I only buy Oranger, but I've added the absolutely dee-vine Baies (Berries) to the mix.

          Next week this space will be filled with what I hope you'll find to be delightful surprises and unexpected takes on classical themes. Since I don't know exactly how each day will unfold, I can't give you details today.

          I hope you're having a wonderful weekend and, once again, thank you for visiting, reading, commenting. A demain mes très, très, très chers amis.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pre-Holiday Cadeaux

          How about a handful of "Open-Right-This-Second" gifts? They could be hostess offerings or touches of the season's spirit for your home. Why not, n'est-ce pas?

          Let me suggest a few immediate gratification items:

          1.) Fleur de lis linen cocktail napkins.  (Let me caution you. When you click you will be taken to a site that caters to baby gear -- lots and lots of baby stuff, but go to "The Best" scroll and be patient. You will sort of really, really want these to keep on scrolling.)
          2.) Eiffel Tower ornaments.
          3.) More of the above, but different. Same source, One Kings Lane.

          4.) Moutarde au jus de truffe.
          5.)  From Diptyque, the best candles in the world in my opinion, their Noël collection (or just one). The choices this year: Sapin Doré, L'Oud Ambré and L'Oliban -- all sumptuously rich and sensuous.

        Next week there will be much more where these came from including stocking stuffers for the woman (and the man) who has everything. There will be, however, a twist to the story.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

News & Views, This & That

Poupées Russes from Lanvin.

          It's late and I'm running off to Paris for an appointment, but didn't want to leave you without at least a tiny bit of entertainment. I think, for the sake of speed and facility I shall forgo transition sentences. Let's see how it goes. . .

          If you're looking for a rather strange, but apparently "in, in, in" holiday gift idea, these Russian dolls "poupées Russes" created by the ever clever Lanvin designer, Alber Elbaz, might be just what your nearest and dearest desires. Price you might wonder? A mere 135 Euros.
         For a far more glamourous cadeau, Cristal Vendôme has a collection of 35 perfume flacons -- they really are gorgeous -- from Daum or Lalique for example into which one can pour her very special fragrance. The bottles are truly collectible objets de art and would be every so pretty on a dressing table.

Prices range from approximately 185 to 400 Euros.
Let's say, like moi meme, you like statistics -- fun statistics. Operating under that assumption then, here are a few:

        1.) 62 percent of French women apply mascara every morning. (Is that fascinating or what. . .?)

        2.) Only six percent of French women apply sun screen products daily. (Who knew?) Meanwhile, 51 percent of Americans are more responsible, in that regard at least.

        3.) 14 percent of French women wash their hair every day.

        4.) 64 percent of French fashion magazine readers have confidence in the advice offered by beauty editors.  (Little do they know about the pressures of advertising budgets apparently.)

Isn't he/she sweet? 
          As I believe I have mentioned on several occasions, the dog of the moment in Paris and in our part of the countryside is the French bull dog. While perusing J.Crew the other day, i.e. Christmas shopping, I noticed the above sweater was sold out. There was an apology, but no promise of re-stocking with the same breed.        
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