Sunday, November 25, 2012

New York, New York! (Part 1)

Central Park bench:
The wisdom of New York city...

A few days ago, I *almost* wrote a story, and it started like this...

These vagabond shoes 
They are longing to stray 
Right through the very heart of it 
New York, New York...

(New York, New York lyrics)

I was still in New York city, then. I felt like sharing my excitement with you, my reader. The spotty WiFi connection at my hotel did not allow it. Dommage

Here I am, chez moi, on the West Coast. Yes, New York is still my girl. Yes, New York is fine; or will be fine, once all the people who have been affected by Sandy (what a friendly name for such an unfriendly broad...) have been able to pick up the pieces the storm left behind and find some normalcy in their lives once again.

For a few days, I was a tourist in New York, back in the big city I love, as Manhattan was getting ready for the Thanksgiving celebrations and the Holidays. The weather cooperated, and I was greeted every single morning by crisp blue skies as I stepped outside. This is a privilege we, Seattleites, real or imported, never take for granted, especially in November. Merci, New York, for your warm welcome. It was great to see you, too. 

There have been many New York trips over the years for this French Girl. This visit had been planned around a big event scheduled on the last night (it did not disappoint...) But I was determined to do things a bit differently this time, and stayed away from major attractions, popular locations, museums; in short, from all the places where long lines of tourists would be forming. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being a tourist, either in New York city or anywhere else, but it is a tourist's privilege to decide how they want to approach a city. 

This time, I picked a theme: "les quartiers." Neighborhoods. New York is a city of neighborhoods or villages. Meatpacking district. Chelsea. East Village. West Village. Soho. Tribeca, and more. All I needed to do was select a section of the city in the morning. Hop on a Subway, Metrocard in hand. Walk, often for hours. Lose myself in the heart of a neighborhood. Left. Right. Left. Another right, pourquoi pas? Let's see where my feet take me... Busy street. Deserted street. Wonderful, wonderful New York streets...

West Village

East Village

East Village 


Look up at buildings. Always find the time to look at the buildings... Buildings, like fingerprints, tell the story of a city... 

In a big city, locals rush. They work. They commute. They run; looking straight ahead. They don't smile. Out of town visitors call them rude. Man up, out of town visitors! New Yorkers are not rude. Parisians are not rude. They are busy tackling life in the big city. They have no time to hold the tourist's hand. You, the tourist, are the lucky one. Stay out of the locals' way. And take your time, because you can. Look around. Notice details in the great urban landscape others may take for granted. 

More New York wisdom...
Central Park
Central Park bench
East Village building
Inside the Chelsea Market
Washington Square Park

Some visitors insist on being part of "it;" the life of the city. They want to feel as if they belong. Weekends are a good place to catch locals while - at last - they slow down and enjoy their city. Parks are often a good choice. Parks are precious in crazy, big cities. Nobody knows it better than New Yorkers. Just go to Central Park on a sunny Saturday or Sunday morning and watch them at play...

Central Park

Central Park

... or visit New York's newest park, the High Line. An amazing walk above an amazing city; built on old, elevated railroad tracks on Manhattan's West Side; long retired, and recently brought back to life by committed volunteers in love with their neighborhood.

The High Line
The old tracks are still there...
A large window, and bleachers so New Yorkers can watch their favorite show:
New York, the city that never sleeps...
Enjoying New York city from above...

All great cities have trendy neighborhoods, and neighborhoods are trendy because locals made them. New York city is no exception. I went to Soho soon after I arrived, and returned a couple of days later. Soho has it all: light (no skyscrapers there,) shops, restaurants, wonderful architecture, and many, many New Yorkers... in other words, excellent people-watching (and you all know how much I love this!)

Phew. I don't know about you, but these vagabond shoes are tired just reminiscing about all these wonderful spots; and the hours of walking it took to explore them. Better to take a break. I will be back next week with Part 2 of this story. Will you join me?

As always, thank you for reading; for commenting; for following, here or on Facebook. The messages you sent during my trip; the recommendations you offered; were most appreciated. I am a lucky French Girl because wherever I travel, I am never alone...

A bientôt.

These vagabond shoes need a rest... Until next time... 

All photos by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use, reprint or Pin without permission.
-- French Girl in Seattle

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"I have to go see about a girl..."

(Photo credit: American Frog Photography)

Do you remember Matt Damon's line at the end of Good Will Hunting?

This week, I get to be in the movie. Like Will Hunting, I have to go see about a girl...

The girl's name is New York City. In the French language, all cities are girls, ("la ville,") but even if they weren't, I would have still thought of New York as female. A complex, colorful, and resilient girl. Always surprising. Exciting. Unforgettable.

New York City and I have been friends for a long, long time. In 1981, a wide-eyed 18-year old flew in from Greensboro, NC, with her American host family. What a high school graduation trip that was for this French girl! Three weeks in the United States, including "field trips" to Washington, D.C., and New York City. My American pen pal and I wrote for three years before I came over. Once we met on this side of the pond, we did not get along. Disappointing, but it did not really matter. Her parents and siblings could not have been more welcoming. I owe them big time. Moore family, thank you, wherever you may be. A life long habit of building international friendships started that summer. One of the highlights of the New York trip: My first Broadway show. Pirates of Penzance, with the original cast, Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt and Estelle Parsons. What a rollicking good time we had! There would be many more special moments in New York. 

Fast forward a few years. I returned during the summer of 1987, after completing part of my college education in Atlanta GA in 1984-1985, where more friendships were built. By 1987, I was back in Paris, working on my Master's Thesis and, as an English Major, had elected to research a popular American novelist, John Irving. Mr Irving had gained international acclaim with The World According to Garp, his fourth novel, published in 1978.

By 1987, he had added two more bestsellers to his growing body of work, the Hotel New Hampshire (1981) and the Cider House Rules (1985.) When I started taking a closer look at his novels, he had become a household name. It was said that the author could have pursued an acting career thanks to his good looks and charismatic personality.

The infamous Time magazine cover:
John Irving enters the Big Leagues in 1981

Irving did dabble in movies, and at least three of his books were adapted successfully to the big screen. In The Cider House Rules movie adaptation, Dr. Larch, magistrally interpreted by Michael Caine, remains my favorite Irving character. By the mid-1980s, Irving stood out in the literary world for being respected as a serious writer while being promoted "like a rock star."  How? This begged further investigation...

Dr Larch to his orphans :
"Good night, you Princes of Maine; you Kings of New England!"

In January 1987, I contacted R. a good friend I had met in Atlanta. She had since graduated and worked in the fashion industry in Manhattan. I told her I intended to meet some of Mr Irving's publishers and asked if I could stay with her for a few days... She agreed, and I was fortunate enough to land meetings with several publishing houses, including the prestigious Random House and Pocket Books. 

Random House, New York City
(Photo credit: Samantha Casalori)

I could not believe my luck: That summer, I lived - and commuted - like a New Yorker for several long weeks. Every day, I left my friend's apartment in New Jersey and took the train to Manhattan; met interesting people who had, at one point or another, worked with John Irving and had enjoyed the experience so much they enthusiastically granted me access to their files and archives. Then I would grab a quick lunch; go over pages and pages of notes (no laptops in 1987) and, as my reward, spent long afternoons walking everywhere in Manhattan. I remember getting lost on purpose; riding the Subway and stepping off along the line to discover a new neighborhood. 

Commuting in Paris or New York: same difference, to this French Girl!

I fell in love with New York City that summer and have not recovered since. If you read this, "Cui-Cui," thank you. I have not forgotten what you did for me then. 

There were other trips, of course; the last one two or three years ago when I returned during a beautiful week in April with Le Husband and Junior. We hit many tourist spots. I was pleased to see Junior - who lives in American suburbia - embracing the big city as enthusiastically as I did, so many years ago. He is his mother's son, after all.

"If I can make it [here], I can make it anywhere!"
Junior in Central Park

(Photo credit: American Frog Photography)

New York Subway? Paris Metro? No problem!
(Photo credit: American Frog Photography)

Yes, it is time for me to go and see about a girl; my old friend, New York City. This has been a rough 10 years. Battered and wounded, she is still standing, and I will be happy to see her again in a few days.

One incredible skyline
(Photo credit: American Frog Photography)

(Photo credit: American Frog Photography)

(Photo credit: American Frog Photography)

(Photo credit: American Frog Photography)

But I have to go and see about other girls, too.

A fellow blogger who will be joining me for a delicious [French] lunch somewhere in Manhattan this weekend...

An iconic black singer who made France her home and settled down with her "Rainbow Tribe" in a beautiful Château in the Dordogne valley...

Finally, a French artist I have admired for many years... We are meeting next week for an elegant evening at Carnegie Hall...

Oui, I am looking forward to seeing you, New York City. My bag is almost ready. It has been far too long. 

A très bientôt, mon amie.

(Photo credit: American Frog Photography)

Travel Essentials, by French Girl in Seattle

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Plaisirs d'automne... Autumn pleasures...

Julia Child and Jacques Pépin
request the pleasure of your company 
for a fall pot-luck dinner party.
Come and join us at l'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes, 
Roo de Loo (rue de l'Université), Paris.
Please bring a healthy appetite, 
and your favorite recipe 
from Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
A bientôt.

Your hosts,
Jacques and Julia.

I will never say it enough: We have wonderful friends. 

Most people would at least pause before replying to a similar invitation. Pas nos amis. Not our friends. They R.S.V.P.'d within a couple of days and agreed to play along. Had I thrown in a Julia and Jacques look-alike contest, they would not have missed a beat...

You may remember I have a soft spot for la Grande Julia. She would have turned 100 this Fall. What a special way of honoring her long, prolific career and the great girl she was. Good food. Good wine. Good company. Oui, Julia would have approved. 

The only bad news about the party was that I could not invite more people. Space was limited, even in our palatial [by European standards] home, and I wanted all twenty guests to sit in the same room. 

The party took a while to plan, but it was worth it. 

Le Husband and I decided to prepare one of Julia's specialties, le Boeuf Bourguignon. It took three evenings to make. We had fun and worked side by side; narrowly avoiding disaster while flambé-ing [methinks I just invented a new verb...] the dish with Cognac. We had forgotten to turn off the stove vent, and the bright flames were sucked in; threatening to set the basement on fire. We did not panic (no doubt the Cognac fumes had helped relax Jacques and Julia that night...)

Call Ze Firemen: Ze Frenchies have set the 'hood on fire!!!

Things settled down,
and le Boeuf Bourguignon went back to simmering quietly...

Meanwhile, our friends researched Julia's career and came up with a selection of scrumptious dishes. Les entrées (appetizers) included gougères au gruyère and champignons farcis. Soupe à l'onion, homard Thermidor and haricots verts sauce Mornay joined our Boeuf Bourguignon as plats du jour (the day's specials.) Finally, dessert: Mousse au chocolat and tarte aux fruits. 

Quel festin! What a feast!

Finally, everything was ready for our soirée, and the house quietly awaited guests on a rainy, blustery evening.

The quiet before the storm...

The Frenchified Julia, waiting for her guests...

It is fair to say a wonderful time was had by all. This was the perfect fall celebration and for the next few hours, guests' laughter and animated conversation prevailed. Folks, it was LOUD in there. Jacques and Julia were the only well-behaved ones, silently working side by side on the flat tv screen, oblivious of le tintamarre (the racket) around them.

In a corner of the room, empty wine bottles started piling up. The stack would get a lot bigger by the time the evening wrapped up, much, much, later.

Joyeux anniversaire, Julia! Bon Appétit! 

Then, once the quiet had returned, there would be cleaning; pushing furniture around; and for our lucky family, a couple more days enjoying tasty leftovers.

Ah, plaisirs d'automne. Autumn pleasures. Merci, Julia. Merci, les amis.

But who said Fall pleasures all have to be enjoyed indoors? The weather has been hit-and-miss, but a handful of dry days have allowed for some outdoor action. 

At the beginning of the week, I visited a lively Seattle neighborhood, Capitol Hill. I took a morning walk in Volunteer Park, home of the Seattle Asian Art Museum and a 100-year old Conservatory. 

Bonjour, Space Needle!

Later on, I followed Capitol Hill's most exclusive street, Millionaire's Row, and gawked at château after château...

I decided this was likely a conservative neighborhood... but one should never presume.

Suddenly, I saw la maison bleue (the blue house.) Two peaceful angels were guarding the front door. Upon closer inspection, it appeared the angels were carrying signs. The house itself was covered in stickers. I got closer, and I smiled, for one of the angels had a message for me.

Fear not, little angels. Washington State has heard you. 

Along the way, I made time for une omelette aux fines herbes (fresh herb omelet) chez Café Presse, a local restaurant.

Meanwhile, not everyone was enjoying a pleasant Fall. The East Coast is still reeling from Sandy's visit. Somewhere along the way, an outspoken Republican governor and a Democratic President gave everyone a much-needed lesson in bi-partisanship when they met stranded populations on the Jersey coast and pooled resources to help others.

Then came the long awaited presidential election day, as everyone sighed with relief all over the country. Enfin. Finally. 

In a heartwarming display of democracy at work, Americans voted. In the cold, in the dark, with no power. They voted. It was a beautiful sight.

Tom Rivers, NJ
(photo: Mel Evans, AP)
Staten Island, NY
(photo: Seth Wenig, AP)
Everyone voted on November 6, 2012!
(photo: Sarah Stathas, Reuters)

Junior and his immigrant parents stayed up late on Election night. A Social Studies project had to be completed, and our 7th grader was mesmerized as he kept track of the giant map on the TV screen. Slowly, the map started turning red... and blue. (There was something going on in Florida, but by now, everyone is getting used to it. Florida does not do presidential elections very well... Sorry, Florida!)

This will come in handy when planning upcoming vacation...
(kidding, folks, kidding!) 

Finally, the president's name was announced. Barack Obama. People cheered. People cried (not always from happiness.) It was a done deal. Battles had been fought. Millions had been spent. A President had been elected. 

Le Husband and I were happy to participate in our third American Presidential election. Whomever Americans voted for, I hope they remember that - to quote a friend and neighbor this week - "United we stand. Divided we fall." 

And to keep things light (this is just a fun little blog, after all,) we were very happy to hear that President Obama has just honored an immigrant family some of you may recognize...

A bientôt.

"De rien, President Obama!"

Governor Christie's fundraiser for New Jersey families:

All photos unless otherwise noted, by French Girl in Seattle.
Please do not use, reprint, or Pin without permission.