East of Paris Bookstore

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Paris - Flowers and other Surprises



The flowers in Paris shops and restaurants are lovely and hydrangeas are everywhere.


The hotel George V has magnificent displays in the colors of Indian Summer ...

Another word for George V is opulent. 


Every day, there is a surprise dessert waiting for us in our room.
 





And, then there are other surprises ... like hidden staircases ...
and the "Welcome" sign
And, don't forget that to give is better than to receive.

À bientôt


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paris

Arrived in Paris, with two surprises.  First, the Air France flight was better than expected.  The equipment was new and the flight attendants were, well, attentive.  Second, the hotel representative met us directly on exit from the aircraft.  She walked us through passport control, arrange for our luggage to be taken to the car and walked us through customs.  It was the fastest most efficient entry into a country that I've experienced. Very nice [reminiscent of the VIP Lounge service in Moscow].


This was a good end to a slightly nervous start.  At LAX we had passed through more security screens than even before. I walked through the new "X-Ray" machines ... but was patted down anyway.  There were extra TSA staff checking papers as we handed our boarding pass to the AIr France staff.  Then, after passing into the jetway, we saw at least 6 more TSA personnel, who again asked to see our passports and boarding passes and asked a few questions.  On top of that, I saw a couple wearing, let's call it, "eastern dress," that gave me a Juan Williams moment.  A decent way to deal with said frisson was to say "oui" to the in-flight champagne.

BFF - A Tale of Two Tails [Part II]

Sasha the puppy was a wild girl.  Mr. Wonderful and I suffered our greatest disappointment when she dropped out of behavior boarding school.  No one in the family had ever dropped out of anything. Fortunately, she had learned enough that the house would not be destroyed.


A funny dog, she had us wrapped around her big paws, loved people but feared animals.  The ultimate omega dog, she dropped in surrender whenever another dog was near.  And, our cat could keep her cornered indefinitely.  


Very soon after her third birthday, we noticed she had hip dysplasia  She could not jump in the car without help or take very long walks.  But, she could swim ... for what seemed like hours.  She'd run out the back door to the pool gate and sit there waiting for it to open.  Then she'd run to the steps on the shallow end of the pool, walk down into the water and swim or retireve toys.


Finally, after nine years, she could walk no more....  The house got quiet, lonely and too clean.  Mr. Wonderful said, "no more dogs."  Famous last words.


A few months later, I began looking at Internet sites for another dog.  I found a rescue service that had unwanted Labradors for adoption.  I filled out paper work, and the organization sent people to our house for an inspection.  We passed their tests.  Soon, Draga [meaning "dear one"] entered our family.  Her name had been something different, but with a new life in her "forever home," we thought she deserved a new name too.
Draga came with a number of problems:  she was very under-weight, shed huge amounts of fur, did not really know how to eat, or how to climb steps. She had been used for breeding and then abandoned.  With a bit of effort, she quickly learned to run up and down stairs and how to eat from her bowl.  She gained weight and quickly learned to  answer to her new name.


Unlike Sasha, our new doggie walks around puddles and will not swim, although beach walks are acceptable.  And, she takes no nonsense from other dogs but holds her ground even a bit aggressively.  She likes people and frequently comes around for hugs.  
Once more we find ourselves wrapped around a Labrador's big paws.  A wagging tail and a bit of dog hair in the house, make it a good home.

Monday, October 25, 2010

BFF - A Tale of Two Tails [Part 1]

Once upon a time, long ago, when I could fit into slinky evening dresses, Mr. Wonderful took me to a ball.

There were lovely ladies in long flowing glittering gowns and men looking handsome in tuxedos [which happen to make all men handsomer]. There were waiters sashaying with trays of champagne and wine. There were luscious hors d'oeuvres, delicious food, and wonderful music. And, unlike in grand-mama's day, there was a silent and a live auction.

It's simply a fact that most balls and similar opportunities for dress-up come with the obligation to support a charity. In addition to buying a ticket to attend, there is the further understanding that one will bid on the antiques, art works, restaurant dinners, and trips that may be offered up for auction. During the cocktail hour, one mingles while looking at silent auction items, occasionally writing down a bid. In between dinner courses items are auctioned live and ball attendees slip out to the antechamber to powder their noses or check their bids on silent auction items. So, it was of no import that Mr. Wonderful slipped out after the salad course.

While he was away, some furious bidding arose over an adorable yellow Labrador puppy. The poor pouch looked tiny and scared and very sleepy as a Kennel Club enthusiast walked around holding him. Meanwhile, the auctioneer milked the sentimental audience. It seemed some bidders seated on the far side of the ballroom were raising their numbered paddles each time the auctioneer shouted a new bid. When the numbers reached a large number, I looked around for Mr. Wonderful. I was sorry he was missing the action. But, he was nowhere to be seen. I did not want to leave to find him because I wanted to know where the bidding would close. It closed significantly higher.
     "Some crazy person paid a fortune for that puppy," I told Mr. Wonderful when he finally slipped into his chair next to me.

     "We got the dog," he said with a huge grin.

     "No, darling, it was some nut case way on the other side of the room. You missed all the excitement when you were out."

     "We got the dog," he repeated.

     "But you were out!"

     "No, I was the crazy guy bidding while standing behind one of the decorations, so you couldn't see me," he answered.

    "You paid what for a dog? What are we going to do with him?"  It was a good thing the room was noisy and he did not hear my voice rising to an almost screech.

  "It's a she not a he, and she also comes with a crate, food, and an introductory vet visit." Mr. Wonderful made it sound like such a bargain.

   "O.K.,"  I sighed.  "Just one thing, darling, dogs aren't cats; they need to be trained and walked." 

   "We can handle it," he answered. "Now, shall we dance?"

And, that is how the first "Tail" came into our lives. Late at night, on a cold and rainy February. We named her Sasha.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch

A friend of mine and I just tried a new restaurant in Newport Beach:  True Food Kitchen.  Located at Fashion Island, True Food Kitchen is a reasonably priced very popular spot serving fresh and healthy cuisine.  OK, so Mr. Wonderful will avoid it in favor of  the adjacent Flemings Steakhouse, but he's a he and I'm a lady who went to lunch.
I arrived first and was handed a buzzer that would notify me when my table was ready.  I sat outside on a comfortable bench and people watched.  The restaurant patrons consisted of young and old, business persons and dressed-to-the-nines shoppers.  A Maybach idled at the valet parking stop. [That car's size, shape, and curtains on the back windows remind me of a hearse.  Or is that just me?]   Finally, the buzzer buzzed, my friend arrived, and we were seated at an outside table.

The outside tables are under a canvas canopy and there are overhead heaters nearly everywhere.  So despite the recent cool and rainy weather, we were very comfortable.  The servers were friendly and knowledgeable about the menu.  They were also fast but did not make us feel rushed. 

We shared the crudite plate pictured above ... crispy and delicious. I then had a quinoa salad with yellow beats and pomegranate garnish.  Even more delicious.  A glass of white wine didn't hurt. And we had plenty of sparkling mineral water, served in what looked like glass milk bottles.
Afterward, I crossed the parking lot to go to my favorite Fashion Island stores -- Apple computer, Barnes and Noble, and Neiman Marcus.  An afternoon of lunching and shopping can be ever so exhausting.  On my way home I picked up a cheesecake.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What We Are Reading Now

It is mid-October and our upcoming trip looms. This time, we are going to Syria and Lebanon with a few days in Paris in advance to help with the time change.  At least I am assuming we will be in Paris.  What with the latest round of strikes [la grève, toujours la grève] by a population that would rather fight than work to age 62, and the latest terror threat [just heard about it on the radio], may be a stop in Paris is unwise.  


In preparing for our trip, which is really a pilgrimage to various Orthodox Christian sites in the region, I realized that my knowledge of the places we'll be visiting is abysmally minimal. After the Romans left, the next I heard of the area was the Six Day War, when I was in 6th grade. Since that time, one's exposure to the Middle East comes from the media, which always seems to stress wars and related unhappy or unpromising events. To try and learn more about Syria and Lebanon, we've spent the last weeks reading a variety of sources for information.


We closely perused Monasteries of the Antoichian Orthodox Patriarchate, which Bishop Joseph of the Antiochian Diocese of Los Angeles and the West, lent us. [My photo of this book's cover appears at the start of this blog post.] The book is filled with stunning photographs and explanatory text -- a page in Arabic  followed by a page in English.


We are blessed with a good personal collection of books, some unread and some read long ago.  We scoured our book shelves and found and are re-reading: 
Also, in preparation for the tip we bought:
Overall, unless, perhaps, one has access to a university library, the amount of reliable and unbiased information available about the places we'll be visiting is, well, questionable.  There are tensions between any combination of the following:  Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Israel. Depending on who is writing, the point of view regarding each country can change dramatically.

While backgorund reading is interesting, we look forward to seeing and experiencing these ancient lands first hand.




Where I Write


"Where I Write" is a challenge question from the blog:  Writing with Style  Until I read about it, I did not give much thought to where I write.  For example, when we are travelling I have a routine:  I download my photos every night and write on my laptop in our hotel room, which hopefully has a desk.  If not, I sit on the bed and write there.  It’s easy to shut the door, settle down and just write.

At home, there are too many distractions.  To cope with those, I write in different places, all depending on what I am writing.  My blogging and writing for enjoyment takes place in the library.  I have a comfortable chair, I am surrounded by books I love and photo albums, and I can look out the northeast facing window. The desk was allegedly owned and used by Napoleon III.  However, he is not one of my “favs” so I don’t mind if it gets a few nicks or coffee stains.

Paying bills, tracking taxes, writing out travel plans, and all the administrative aspects of our life – business writing – takes place in my study.  The desk is a slab of glass supported by two Chinese cabinets.  It is about an inch too high for comfort, but suits the purpose of writing checks, thank-you notes, birthday cards, and spreadsheets to use for budgets and tax records.  A Mac is in the closet.  The study also serves as an extra guestroom, so there are times that I cannot claim full ownership, which means I cannot really "write" there.

And, if I am writing for a project from the office or on something that requires lots of space for documents, I write and proofread in the dining room.  The table is a large clear glass top with space for everything.  The room is rather minimalist; there are no books, telephone, or other little distractions.   It is still in range of the wireless signal and allows for an Internet connection.  I can look out the window at the ocean to clear my head, although I usually work with my back to the view.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sooo Safe

We have a small refrigerator in our sitting room, and this morning was the time to clean it ... to get rid of antique ice cubes and old medications and batteries and water bottles.  I also found potassium iodide tables to be used in case of a nuclear accident.  According to the FDA, potassium iodide is supposed to prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing too much radiation thereby reducing the risk of thyroid cancer.

The post-mark on the envelope shows that in March of 2003 our all-so-knowing government sent us an envelope with four tablets of potassium iodide. These are designed to keep us "safe" in case there is a radiation leak from the nuclear power plant in whose 10-mile danger zone we abide.

Of course, we are warned to wait for direction from our public health officials before ingesting the tablets.  But, how will they know where to reach me?  How do they know that I will not be stuck on Interstate 5 going north (along with everyone else) to get away from the nuclear power plant?  Since the same all-knowing government recently nixed a toll road expansion, there are no alternate evacuation routes from nukes or tidal waves or other earthquake impacts.

Assuming the selfless public health officials risk their thyroids and come to my house to tell me to ingest my pills, will they work?  According to the Material Safety Data Sheet of Mallinckrodt Chemicals, "Prolonged storage is not recommended...."  Does storage in my refrigerator for the last 7 years count as "prolonged"?  If yes, has my all-knowing and caring government abandoned me?  Have they given everyone around us fresh tablets and left me out?  Hmmm.

Until I looked up the Mallinckrodt MSDS with its list of warnings, I had felt so safe.  Now I see that I have to take care of my own safety. So, rather then being stuck on roads that make quick evacuation a fiction, if I find out the nuclear power plant has a radiation leak, I think I'll just light a candle in front of our icons, drink the last of our Veuve Clicquot, tell Mr. Wonderful that I love him, and read a good book.  Aristotle's Politics and Poetics anyone?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

100th Post

This is my 100th East of Paris blog post in 7 months of blogging.  I am hereby giving myself a pat-on-the-back.  

Before starting this blog, I made a list of 50 topics to write about. I was not sure I could keep up writing or have anything to write about.  Interestingly, I have not even covered half the topics on the list.  Each day something new and interesting catches my attention and blogging topics bubble up.  We are leaving for a trip to the Middle East at the end of the month, so I have no qualms about running out of things to photograph or write about.

Thanks to all of you who read and to all of you who comment, whether you send me e-mails or actually comment on the blog itself.  Comments are an amazing gift.  When I see one, my posture improves, I sit up straighter and get a major grin on my face.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Golf with Bambi

Exactly a week ago, when taking the taxi from downtown Cleveland to the airport, I saw a deer in the highway divider.  He was huge.  He looked up and seemed to consider whether to leap out of the tall grass and cross the road.  For a moment, my heart stopped -- fearing that the cab might hit such a magnificent animal.
This near hit-and-miss, reminded me how peaceful it is to see deer on the golf course.  On the Monterrey Peninsula, they blend in so well with the landscape that they are hard to see.  And being used to people, they ignore us as we proceed down the fairways of our favorite golf courses.  The does even let us come close to their spotted young "Bambis."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

EXIT

View from Petrovaradin Fortress
Last Saturday, while attending the Serbian Unity Congress convention in Cleveland, I sat next to Dušan Kovačević at dinner.  He is one of the founders of the EXIT music festival in Novi Sad, Serbia.  EXIT is considered one of the top five music festivals in Europe and attracts an international assortment of bands, DJs, and tens of thousands of visitors.

Since my view of contemporary music stops with Brahms, or Prokofiev if I’m feeling wild, most of the music at EXIT is truly foreign to me.  But, I have family in Novi Sad and I have visited the Petrovardin Fortress, across the river, at which site some of the EXIT festival concerts have been staged.  Meeting Kovačević and hearing about the start of EXIT was intriguing.

The first EXIT festival was held over 100 days in the summer of 2000 and also called “EXIT out of 10 years of madness.”  The reference was a desire for freedom, democracy, and prosperity after ten years of a corrupt totalitarian dictatorship by Slobodan Milosevic that impoverished the country and led to wars, losses of territory, and isolation.  Think: North Korea in Europe.  Meanwhile, ordinary people were suffering and students and other intellectuals were choking.  Music became a metaphor for protest and various participants in the first EXIT festival were members of “Otpor!” a resistance movement. 
Belgrade, October 5, 2000
The first EXIT festival indeed heralded the EXIT of the dictator.  Several days after the end of the festival, Federal Elections were held and Milosevic lost.  Not willing to give up power, he was finally ousted after hundreds of thousands of fed-up citizens protested in Belgrade and part of the parliament building was set on fire on October 5, 2000.

EXIT has grown in the last ten years to great acclaim.  But, even with changes in government, the path to success has not been smooth.  In addition to dealing with venues, logistics, and all the other details of organizing and running a major event, Kovačević and others involved in running the festival were briefly arrested and released just prior to EXIT 2004.  This arrest became a major story in the press and several candidates running for president at the time felt compelled to comment on it.

Did a music festival cause a loathsome regime to fall?  Well, it certainly didn’t hurt.

Incidentally, Petrovaradin Fortress is a gem of a site.  While the corner stone was laid in 1692, it was not completed until 1776.  Like most huge government projects, this Austrian edifice, complete with 16 km of underground tunnels, was inordinately obsolete upon completion.  But, sitting on top of a high river bank overlooking Novi Sad and the Danube, it is a great venue for sipping cappuccino or staging concerts.  EXIT 2011 will take place in July 2011.  I am thinking of taking Mr. Wonderful there, even though the only modern music he likes was written by Mozart.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Home Cooking Aromas

With October, the aromas of pumpkin pie and apple spiced potpourri begin invading my spaces.  I love these smells, which signal a long leisurely fall season.

Nonetheless, there is something very satisfying about the simple smell of onions and garlic sizzling in butter or olive oil.  Mr. Wonderful always makes appreciative comments that I must be cooking something good when he comes into the house and smells the aroma of these basics.  Little does he know that I am still trying to decide what to add to the onions and garlic and what to make to dinner. 
That's the magic of simple ingredients -- they make a perfect foundation to almost any meal.


The tallest garlic I have seen was at the Botanical Graden in Madrid.  We arrived from California jet lagged and our room was not yet ready at the Hotel RItz.  To stay awake while waiting for our room, we walked across the street to the garden.


photo by V. Dravinski
The onion display is from the Dolac open-air green market in Zagreb.

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