Moulin Rouge Shoes and Other Tales of Feet

Moulin Rouge shoes 2Moulin Rouge shoes 3While meandering around Pigalle, in preparation for an upcoming post, I ran across this  very interesting store window that captured my eye.  Thought I would share it  just for a fun peek into the many interesting finds awaiting discovery in every nook and cranny here.

I wasn’t planning on writing much, but a sprained  foot/ankle ended up keeping me housebound for two days, so I have ended up writing more than I set out to do.

The company is Clairvoy and as stated in the left hand of the window has been in business since 1945 of hand crafting shoes.  But these aren’t your ordinary shoes, my dear, but destined to adorn the footsies of those very talented high-stepping can can girls at the Moulin Rouge, Le Lido, Folies Bergère , and the Crazy Horse.

They also make shoes for the Cirque d’Hiver, Cirque du Soleil, Opera Garnier et Bastille, musicals, cinema and the stars, from Bardot to Dujardin.    The boutique has five very talented artisanal shoe makers, whose hands take 40 to 60 hours to make each shoe, requiring over 400 steps.

The day a Moulin Rouge dancer is hired, an appointment is made with Clairvoy to measure and make a shoe that will provide first of all comfort, then beauty and durability.   Dancers typically dance two performances a night, for 6 days out of the week.

Though their major clients are those famous cabarets for  their professional dancers, one can order hand made shoes, but only if you are willing to fork out a minimun of 2000 euros, and have a lots of patience, as the dancers come first.  

I got a hidden peek into the life a cabaret dancer, when I had one as a patient several years ago.   She often complained of the rigorous and long rehearsals under the watchful and very critical eye of the troop’s dance leader, an ex dancer herself, who had been there for years.

If a dancer looked a little heavier than usual, you were called out to be weighed. A omnious sign for certain, because if the girl was found above the “acceptable weight”, you were side lined until you had loss whatever excess incriminating poundage.

In additon to eating disorders, she informed me that injuries were common, and part and parcel of the trade. She routinely performed stretching excercise to keep her hip and leg tendons very supple to withstand all the physical demands inherent in dancing the can can, and all the other various dances.

Her major complaint was that the high can can kicks left her legs sore, as it did many of the other girls, and could provoke  pulled tendons despite preventive measures. For that reason, the frenzied quadrilles of continuous high kickers generally have to rotate dancers because of the above dangers.

I thought of her, as I was taking the photos, trying to envision her fully costumed for the show. Surprisingly, she informed me that most of the girls are not French, but are recruited from Australia, where they annually recruit  long legged Aussi dancers.

I am unfortunately not long-legged, but by little feet have carried me many a mile or kilometer in my life.  I didn’t start out in life with perfect feet either, because they were both as flat as  pancakes.

At the age of 12, I had surgery under the skiflull hands of Dr, Faheem Cannon, to build aches that I wasn’t born with.  I am forever grateful to the man,  now deceased, that my feet have performed wonderful despite the heavy use since I moved to Paris.

Living in a huge city,  I appreciate this part of my body immensely as my very survival depends on my mobility.  My feet make up my vehicle of choice, running around the convoluted and often cobblestones streets , endless stairs of the metro, in addition to going and up and down the wide avenues  of Paris.

This past week and weekend they were over worked as usual with my photo journalism pursuits and scouring around for my Easter holiday feast.  I imagine that I would have  worn out any soul accompanying me.

After making my own pastry masterpiece, a Paris Brest Praliné sunday evening, I really wanted to take a long walk.  I made my usual tour around Parc Montsouris and upon returining chez moi, somehow , my foot missed taking on the curb entirely, resulting in a painful sprain.  Walking the rest of the way wasn’t painful, but two hours later. Yikes!

I don’t run to doctors, and even so , it was too painful to have made it out to the  generalist and then to the neighborhood radiologist, even though they do house calls.  It is now 4 days later and I ventured out yesterday, walking slowly and hesitantly to the marché for raspberries and asparagus.

Because I don’t feel worse for baby stepping yesterday, then I think my assumption of it being sprained, rather than a stress fracture was correct. Perhaps I should think more about tucking them in more expensive shoes, than my usual bargain ones.

When you live in a large city like Paris, your feet are everything!  I may not be a dancer, but my life also depends of these poor overworked appendages, who carry Miss Cherry everywhere!

P.S. I would like to do  some quick mini posts once a week, in addition to my main one, depending on my mood, my interests, and or discoveries, however frivolous.    It could be one of my culinary creations, that I find hard to tuck in elsewhere or anything that catches my eye, however mundane, on the Paris scene, that doesn’t require much analysis or writing.

Any feed back from my devoted readers will be greatly appreciated! Thank you all in advance for your coveted comments!


Tis The Season Of Hope Eternal

espoir Lenotre egg 2014 Saint Pierre de Montrouge rainbow Easter 2014 Paris Brest Praliné Lenotre easter 2014To me Easter isn’t just one day but a season of hope, resurrection, rebirth and renewal. Of all of these, hope is the most important aspect that provides the momentum to break through the barriers that lock us in sadness, grief, dismay, sickness, loneliness, heartbreak, or any other human bondage.

Hope is like a beautiful radiant energy of light that is beamed our way from God, the source of Divine Love to be perfused in our veins.   If is freely provided, but surprisingly a lot of people are fearful of hoping.

I hear often from patients that if they hope, then they will be disappointed, so why even build themselves up hoping, when they are convinced that the letdown is right around the corner.   It becomes a vicious circle of depriving themselves of hope, because they have already decided that whatever is hoped for is impossible or improbable.

When a person shuts the door to hope, the universe responds likewise because that person is not really opening to all the possibilities that do exist!   Refusal to hope is turning the faucet down to just a drip.

Hope is not a passive thought form, but provides fodder to act upon that hope.  Think of hope like a helium balloon that you are tied to, that literally suspends you, floating you along, while you are gathering strength and taking to those baby steps towards your desired outcome or destination. .

Our english word hope supposedly stems from a north sea Germanic word, similar to those from Scandinavian and Baltic countries, with the old english being hopa.  I like that it may come from the word, hop, as to “leap with expectation.”

In French , it is called espoir from the verb espérer, to hope.  The verb can also connote trust or faith, as in: Il faut espérer en Dieu, translated as “You must have faith or trust in God.”

Either way, there is an inter relatedness with hope to belief and faith, which conveys trust. Therefore you might think of them being in what I call a trilogy of hope.    Hope leads to belief and belief leads to faith  or trust that deliverance is coming!

Each one feeds into and reinforces each other.  Each component is a bridge and leads to a sense of trust and vice versa.

If freedom and liberation from bondage is the spiritual message of Passover, then hope is the springboard that we must take to disengage ourselves from our doubts that hold us back.

When the farmer plants seeds in the soil, he doesn’t doubt that they will sprout, given they are fresh seeds.  No, he assumes that they will with enough rain and sunshine.

Likewise, when we plan on starting out new activities or  trying out new venues, to reach a desired outcome, tis better to be the fool, that just trusts that his efforts will bring  forth fruit.

The majority of us all want to have guaranteed results laid out in front before we will invest much energy or hope in generating something new in our lives.  I often say, that we are more interested in knowing where we are going to get off the bus, before we even start our transit anywhere.

Sometimes, not knowing what will happen can be a blessing.  When I sold my house back home, pulling up roots to move to Paris, I threw myself into the great void of the unknown.

Like the fool,  I assumed that things would work out, and if not, then I would return. I did not have any well crafted ideas or particular plans set in motion, as I was more focused on enjoying the ride.

I trusted and had faith that this was something I felt called to do, because of the overwhelming desire and need to follow my dream. Those of you, who know me personally, know that my spiritual roots run deep and are a large part of my makeup.

Trusting, believing and having faith like the fool, lead me over any obstacles that erupted along my path.  Hope was my fuel that propelled me along my path.

Believing that this was where I needed to be to fulfil a part of my life’s passage was turning my trust over to God and the universe.  God nudges us along the direction we should take, by giving us dreams, desires and even guffs of sudden urges and whelms that take us by surprise.

So if you, who are in the process of reading these very words, let them call you to look into your own heart and believe in your own desires that God is calling you to follow.  Don’t waste your time checking them out with others, who are not privy to your heart’s  deepest dreams and needs and are not willing to see your highest truth.

Leap with expectation that God, who is the Divine source of all possibilities, along with the angels, will do the hidden coordination of events.  With your human mind and eyes, you would not know which door to knock on that would open to you.

If each of us came to planet earth with a divinely ordered mission, to benefit our fellow man,  by sharing our God given talents and gifts with others, then the universe will open those doors and support your dreams.

Your job is to listen attentively to your heart, and be flexible enough to change your ordinary way of either going through life or doing things.  In other words being open to trust letting go and allow God to work his magic in your life.

One of the things I love about being a therapist is providing encouragement and helping patients overcome their doubts about themselves. When they share their dreams, I enjoy leading them into a new vision of seeing themselves accomplishing these dreams.

I have often told them that I will gladly uphold the lantern of hope , when they fall into despair.  My hope for them comes from an unlimited Divine source available to all.

So, for all who have unrequited dreams, not yet given wings of focus. .  Now is the time and season to till the soil of your life’s possibilities and plant your seeds with hope, belief and faith.

Lastly, but certainly not least, give thanks and gratitude now, for the realisation of your dream, perhaps still in the womb, waiting for just the most propitious time to be born.

P.S.  Another, albeit very simple example of listening attentively to your heart, occurred yesterday while attending Mass. in my parish church seen with the rainbow.  I had been working on another post that was to be published today.  Suddenly I felt inspired or called to write this one, and putting the other one aside, even though it meant hoping the words would flow quickly enough today.   My Easter afternoon was already committed to making my Paris Brest Swan Lake praliné pastry, seen in the photo! The chocolate fool/clown and egg were taken in the window of Lenotre’s pastry and chocolates down the street from me.

Easter Chocolates and Cherry Trees

Parc du Seaux cherry treesParc du SeauxParc du SeauxEaster eggs ParisWisteria Saint GermaineJapanese tea store LupiciaMulot patesserieEaster egg Hévin chocolate Mere de Famille 3 chocolates Mere de Famille 2 Chocolates Mere de Famille easter egg Pierre Marcolini Easter Egg Richart Patrick Roger easter frogsEaster chocolates and cherry trees have little in common, except that they both appear in the spring.  Nevertheless, in the past week, I have had long and fruitful walks discovering both again.

The first one was a 14 kilometer walk through three of the prettiest parks south of Paris in the suburbs of Sceaux, Plessis Robinson and Chateaubriands HouseChâtenay Malabry.  The semi urban walk in nature was a meet-up group of multinationals who gather nearly every weekend for long hikes here and there, around Paris.

Climbing up to a promontory in the first park of Henri Sellier, offered a breathtaking  view of the green valley below.   The second park, La Vallée des Loups,was the setting of Chateaubriand’s retirement house seen in the photo nestled in blooming flowers and shrubs.

Chateaubriand was a French writer, politician, and diplomat, who sought refuge in America during the brunt of the French revolution.  However, his name is more known and associated there as a cut of beef.

Throughout the walks I really revelled in the sight and smells of trees and shrubs that had awakened from the long winter, soaking up the sweetly perfumed blossoms here and there that delighted my nose.   Even though I was wasn’t able to decipher each scent nor each flower, the overall effect was extremely pleasant!

The Parc de Sceaux, has been one of my favorite parks outside Paris to walk about on any warm and sunny day.  The rather small but pretty château is set majestically on a hill, that overlooks a beautiful formal garden by the great French landscaper, André Le Notre, who designed the gardens of Versailles and many other chateaux.

The orchards were planted with 250 cherry trees, that from afar  resemble puffs of pink cotton candy atop a tree.   Close up the blossoms really do look delicious enough to eat, but didn’t have any distinct perfume.

Almost every tree was occupied with Japanese families sitting beneath the blossoms enjoying a picnic and drinking sake.   I wasn’t aware until recently, that they consider “hanami” , meaning looking a cherry blossoms, a yearly celebration that is entrenched in their culture.

Parc du Sceaux , obviously is a favorite place for this event for all the expat Japanese living in Paris or Ile de France region.

Paris is always a feast for the eyes in every season, and perhaps spring is the most sought after time of the year.  For chocolate lovers, Paris is the ultimate scene at anytime, but Easter is when the chocolatiers compete designing their Easter collection.

Last thursday was one of those perfect spring days where the air was warm in the sun and only mildly crisp in the shade.  It was a perfect day for me to do part one of my chocolate walk to the sixth arrondissement, where the vast majority of the most famous chocolatiers in the world have boutiques.

Benoits chocolate eggI ended up hitting seven in all, some of which I was able to capture their Easter display in the windows.  The others, like Pierre Hermé,  kept theirs inside and I didn’t dare risk being admonished or plainly forbidden of taking photos of their treasured creations.

I have learned the hard way, that the majority of the more acclaimed pastry makers and chocolatiers don’t allow in store photos of their complete masterpieces.   Perhaps this is out of fear of being copied, even though their web sites have photos of their collections.

Even if I don’t have chocolates in mind, I often like to take this walk from my arrondissement because it passes by the Luxembourg park and Saint Sulpice church and up into the medieval part of the sixth near the Seine..  Most of the chocolate boutiques were on or off Rue Bonaparte and Rue du Seine.

Jean Paul Hevin’s collection was the large egg with a bright orange beak and red dangling wattle along with the pretty fish bowl seen in the photo.  Both very pricey, I might add, with the egg costing 93 euros, and the fish bowl more reasonable at 43 euros.

Without a doubt, at least for me, the cutest displays were La Mere de Famille, which is Paris’s oldest chocolate shop, from 1761.  Beautifully crafted deep chocolate owls, dolphins, squirrels  and a whole zoo of chocolate animals could be found , all adorably dressed up in the bright orange ribbons of the house. Beyond fabulous, this is where I will return to buy my own easter chocolates.

Crossing over blvd Saint Germain, I loved the purple wisteria hanging from the trees of the church, Saint Germain des Prés seen with the corlorful advertisements of concerts below.  Across from the church is the famous cafe Les Deux Magots, which I caught a perfect shot, full of happy patrons as usual.

Further down Rue Bonaparte, I discovered a brand new Japanese tea shop, called Lupicia, that was impressive seeing all the teas offered.  Not surprising, they had a huge display of cherry perfumed teas in black and green teas.

Trying to smell so many teas proved difficult, so I settled on just a few that either intrigued me or that I had not seen before.  After one sniff of a black tea perfumed with muscat, the grape that makes lovely sweet wines, I was sold on buying that one, as was also recommended for iced tea.

Further down the street,was Richart Chocolates, known for very artistic art deco decorations on his whole collection.  A shop selling wooden and porcelain Russian Easter eggs caught my eye for their prettiness.

Heading towards  Rue de Seine, I bumped into the Gelateria Grom, the famous Turin branch that serves up some of the very best Italian ice creams.   I was really tempted to get one, but since I was by myself, the two scoops would have been too much.

My very favorite chocolatier is Pierre Marcolini, who had several eggs and bunny on display, both with a red heart.  Down the street is Arnaud Larher, and Gérard Mulot, both outstanding pastry makers and chocolatiers whose sumptuous confections were all beautiful!

Last boutique visited was that of Patrick Roger, whose whimsical leaping froggies and a Les Deux MagotsRussian easter eggsThevenin fish and eggseaster bunny Marcolinilittle mouse were absolutely adorable and I am sure very expensive as well! He makes all of his chocolates in his lab in Sceaux, where he grows the herbs that he perfumes his chocolates.

The next day I headed up to the marais district specifically to Benoit’s chocolates, whose chocolate maker is a woman.  She learned the art from her father, where his original store in Anger is still located.

I bought a few pieces of her praline filled ones and they were all sublime. Didn’t make it to Jacques Genin’s shop, on Rue Turenne, where I go for the most luscious hot chocolate ever, always served with some of his very exquisite and expensive chocolates.

Like haute couture, these Easter masterpieces are planned well in advance and vary in design from year to year. With prices hovering over a 100 euros a kilo, these painstaking creations are not going to be bought to fill up the kiddies Easter baskets, but rather for those aficionados with deep pockets!

While taking photos in the window of Pierre Marcolini’s store,  a guided chocolate tour group stopped by too; which made me remember that I used to put together these walks for visiting friends.   If any of my devoted readers are in Paris, let me know and I will take you personally on these chocolate discovery walks for free, guaranteed to dazzle your eyes and wear you out all at the same time!

As the Christian Holy Week starts today and also the first evening of the Jewish Passover commences; I wish you all a very happy Easter and a Happy Passover!


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Frozen Tears

suffering-statue-with-tearsWhen profound pain has been stored away in our psychic attic , we can become detached from the acute rawness of the feeling over time, which is protective in nature.   Though we are always aware of this deep gnawing sorrow, we are never really able to fully unleash it, and therefore ours tears become “frozen” in time.

If you are reading this now and have your own frozen tears, then you already know about the feelings that I am talking about, if not the terminology.  For those who have been fortunate to escape ever having any, then the best definition would be that they stem from a well of the deepest sorrow or sorrows known.

These sorrows come from the most painful woundings, hurts, and losses. Deaths of children, and love ones who were wrenched from us in the prime of our relationships are in the forefront.

Any parent that has lost a child, knows frozen tears in the most profound sense, as this is the worst pain any human can suffer.  There is no getting over this type of loss; ever.

For some women, though not all, whom for whatever reason felt there was not any other choice other than abortion, they too live in a painful sorrow and regret that shadows them.

Grown up children, who have been abandoned or emotionally rejected by a parent live with an unrepairable hurt that haunts them throughout  life.  Likewise children who have loss parents during their formative years to a premature death, also are wounded with deep scars.

Another extremely painful wound is having been suddenly abandoned and rejected by someone you loved .  The pain is made worse when you are replaced with someone else, as in both instances there is a death without the coffin.

Women, who have desperately wanted children, but were unable to have them, can also have deep sorrow.

Sometimes they can come from unresolved regrets or guilt over past behavior that caused suffering, losses, or harm to another person.  The most extreme causes of this that I have seen are from war veterans, who in combat, had to kill or wound another human being in the name of war.

Although this buried pain is a protective function of our psyche initially, the continual suppression of sadness can eventually congeal and contribute to a low-level depression, especially for those who have inherited a gene predisposing them toward clinical depression.

Symptoms of situational depression and clinical depression are very similar, and can overlap, with a few exceptions.   One difference is a mood variation in the morning versus the afternoon, which we call a diurnal variation.

That pans out to being that clinical depressed patients are more depressed in the morning and can somewhat feel slightly better in the afternoon.  Whereas, a situational depressive can generally feel more optimistic in the morning and become more depressed in the afternoon.

Prolonged complicated grief can evolve into major depression, especially when there is a sense of guilt and responsibility.   When this occurs, antidepressants are useful in diminishing the symptoms.

We now have several studies correlating childhood abuse, neglect, trauma and adult PTSD with lifetime neuronal implications and structural brain changes.  Antidepressants can improve neuronal functioning, but obviously not remove the original grief or memory of the trauma.

When wrongs, injustices, losses and abuse happens to a person, the reactive expression to this assault can be anger or plain intense hurt.  Some people are more prone to initially feel anger as their first response, that never translates into hurt.

Others will first feel just hurt that can evolve into anger as a secondary feeling.  Whether we are first struck with anger or hurt has a lot to do with our general emotional makeup and personality.

As I often tell patients there is a strong correlation to anger and hurt.   I like to present that they are like a pancake, in that one side is anger and the flip side is hurt.

Sensitive people will generally react with hurt feelings, and those who are given more to left brain thinking types, will experience anger  almost instantaneous.  Unresolved hurt can and often becomes  frozen sorrow in sensitive souls.

There isn’t any therapy that can take away all of the pain, but talking about it with a therapist or trusted other, can often provide some acute relief.  However, those with PTSD, talking therapy must proceed slowly and with caution, based on the patient’s psychic stability and be constantly observant that it does not overwhelm, leading to an acute relapse.

It some situations, it helps to redefine the brunt of the hurt and loss in terms of how this pain may have pushed one to change certain perspectives and  aspects of their life.   As Viktor Frankl , a Holocaust survivor, is often  quoted;  “When we can’t change a situation, then we are encouraged to change ourselves.

Good can come from suffering, if we can give it meaning in our lives and not allow it to congeal into bitterness and anger.  I have seen suffering soften hearts, of those, who in the past ignored or minimised the suffering of others.

From the Buddhist perspective, it is in suffering that we become more aware of our own humanity and our world, and develop compassion.   Christians often compare suffering as a sacrificial sharing the burden of carrying the cross of Christ.

The Jewish interpretation of Job is probably the most clear, in that there isn’t any understanding to be had by human minds.  Human suffering happens to good people too, and that God’s ways are unfathomable and mysterious.

For those who believe in reincarnation, suffering can “polish” our souls to carry more light of the Divine Light or God of the Universe.  I am often reminded of this by looking a the smoothness of the rocks at the seashore.

Suffering is the great uniter, as no one seems spared of having it in their lives. If it is a part of human lives, then there is a reason, whether we understand it or not.

Frozen tears in the depth of our psychic well, can at times suddenly spring forth in gushes, unannounced and triggered by smells, sights, music, or listening to other’s stories that are identifiable to our own.

Those tears do bring relief, though deep sorrow can never be cried out in full.  When this happens, let it be and stay with the feeling of sadness as long as possible to encourage crying.

Grief surfaces from our psyches by small bubbles over time.  Grief is a lifetime human expression, that should be recognised as such.

There is no known therapy  that can dredge out  human grief entirely.  Our scars formed from our sorrows can open us to a greater sensitivity to our fellow suffering others in this world, if not allowed to turn into bitterness and anger.

Frozen tears can be often masked or never revealed, so you can never assume that someone hasn’t known tragedy in their lives. Some adults, who are difficult to get along with and prone to anger often have been very hurt in the past.

Frozen tears that can be released are a sacred testimony to our life’s sorrows and as such should be treated with the utmost compassion.  In each tear, there is a well of emotions in need of voicing and being listened to by compassionate ears.

If only our tears could talk, what would they say?  The next time you are able to cry, ask your tears to speak to you, for they can reveal more insight than your conscious mind is able to do.

Above all, have compassion for your own suffering.   Though we can never understand why, know that your suffering is never in vain.

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Tasting Great Wines Requires Restraint and Discipline

Cherry March 29, 2014Here I am again, in the middle of beautiful wines, that I can’t drink!  I have to go armed with much restraint and discipline if I am going to get though my long list of wines that I want to salon 2014salon 2014 2salon 2014 4taste at the spring Salon des Vignerons Independants.

Tasting and drinking are two different things! At a wine salon offering free degustations with countless wonderful wines, you learn pretty quick if, you are serious about your wines, to not drink them.

Why ? Because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to discern with much acuity all the other wines waiting to be taste. After a few ounces,  your taste buds has a more difficult time discerning the various nuances of each wine.

For me, smelling the perfume of wines is as important and enjoyable as the taste.  At home I find myself just savoring the perfume alone of an intensely perfumed one over a minute or two, before I can even come to put the wine glass to my lips.

At wine salons, I have learned to make friends with the spittoon, not because I want to, but because I don’t have any other real choice.  I rarely spit out the wine though, being too lady like, I much prefer to reluctantly pour it out, however hard that is to do with a beautiful wine!

There is a ritual involved in wine tasting that becomes automatic over time.  At first glance, one quickly notes the color and yes there are many shades of whites, roses and reds depending on the grapes used.

Without thinking, I immediately swirl the small sample round and round in the glass to help release the olfactory esters that I just love to sniff.   After putting my nose deeply in the glass and taking a few short whiffs, I get an immediate feel of the wine , but will pull away and repeat the process for a second validation.

Bringing the glass to my lips, I sort of quietly slurp up a mini sip that takes a little practice to achieve.  It sounds a little like when you suck the last liquid up through a straw.

That is done because you want to incorporate a little bit of air into each sip, which helps intensify the wine more fully, by releasing those wonderful aromatic esters.  This helps your palate fully to appreciate and taste the wine.

Because I take just a mini sip, I do allow myself to swallow minute quantities of the wine only about twice.    Frankly that is the only way you are able to capture the aftertaste, which is for me even more important that the first taste of the tip of the tongue.Salon Pascal laboreau 2

Now comes the hard part, especially if the wine is knock dead gorgeous, like the Corton Charlemagne 2008, going for over 50 euros, that I was privileged to taste. It still needed another two years though to reach all its glory!

I drink more reds though than white, and the expensive ones from Burgundy and Bordeaux are for birthdays and holidays.  Fortunately I have found some excellent and affordable Bordeaux, but not Burgundy, whose magnificent reds are very expensive!

Most of my everyday reds in my cave are from Cahor, made from Malbec, which I adore, Gaillac, Rhone, Fitou,  and the wonderful reds for the Loire valley, made from the Cabernet Franc grape, such as Bourgeuil and Saumur Champigny.   I especially love the powerful older reds from Chinon, which can also be quite 3

Since the white burgundies are way too expensive for everyday,  I lean towards the Loire for Sauvignons and Chenin Blanc, Entre de Mers from Bordeaux,  Alsatian whites,  and the very flavorful and perfumed whites from Gasgogne, made from the Columbard, Petit Manseng and Ugni Blanc grapes.

I like to point out that I drink wine, not labels!  Therefore I enjoy wines from all regions Salon 2014 Aurelien winemaker at Bonhommesalon2014 5salon 2014 salmon champagneof France.  You can find all sorts of beautiful expressions of wine from every region.

It all depends on what I am eating, the season, and my mood, as to which wine I will choose. I tend to drink more whites and rosé in the summer and reds in the fall and winter.

The soil, climate, the geographic position of the vines, and the exposure to the sun all make up what is called “terroir”. The same grape planted in this region versus another will give you a  wine that reflects all the particular differences.

What I find fascinating is that even in the same village, planted with the same grape, on an adjoining hill or only a kilometer apart, the soils can have a different composition that are going to each give off different flavors to the harvested grapes, which is most evident in Burgundy and Bordeaux.

The vintner knows his territory and soil composition by heart, so he can plant whatever grape that is allowed in his region to get the very best out of it.  Each appelation controlée is very strick about what sort of grapes can be used.

The skill, expertise and magic of the vintner comes after harvest, when he has to vintify whatever mother nature has given him into wine.  Not an easy task, such as in 2013, where the weather left many regions with less than perfect grapes.

When I remarked that I was disappointed in the 2013 vintage of Entre de Mer, a white Bordeaux, the vintner nicely chastised me, saying “But Ms Chapman, I don’t make perfume, I make wine”.  Indeed, all wines are living  and changeable each year, and those little changes diversify the multiple dimensions of the wine year after year.

The other big restraint I have is my budget and space in my cave, which is very small, holding about 90 bottles as it is currently arranged.  At least though, it is cool and dark year round, which helps protect the integrity of the wines stored.

I generally buy more wines in the fall than spring.  The spring salon though is where I buy most of my champagne and rose wines.  I have recently discovered a new jewel, the Champagne house of Salmon, where their Cuvée Montgolfière is really lovely at an excellent price!

My strategy at the wine salons, is to spend the first day tasting whites, crémants, which are sparklings from various regions. and champagne.  The next day is devoted to tasting reds and rosés.    I do this to preserve a clean palate, which can be influenced by mixing the two.

Though I concentrate on my favorite vintners first, I always try to leave enough room for new discoveries and this spring there were three.  The most mind-blowing find was the gorgeous Bonhomme Viré Clessé, a white wine from Burgundy made by the adorable Aurelien Palthey, who has wonderful passionate energy, seen beaming in a white shirt.

As  I have said before, I really like getting to know the vintners; maybe its the therapist in me, but also because frankly I want to know their energy and personality.   It does translate into their wines, and those who are generous, passionate and warm, gives off energy to their wines that makes them better and more voluptuous.

The second find was the really lovely and unusual Rieslings from Sylvie Fahrer, along with son Raphael, seen in a dark blue sweater, who proudly told me he was a fourth generation winemaker.      The third was a rosé crémant from the Loire made from 100% of the grolleau grape, which is particular to the region, that was light and crisp with a slight almond aftertaste.

The third day is wishing for more discoveries and finally loading up the cases in the car for delivery home.  It is not recommended that you open a special wine newly purchased, until it has had time to rest a bit, but this can be violated for some of the others.

In the past I had to resort to negotiating the metro or buses with my very heavy caddy and saw many a brave soul doing the same.  I have unfortunately left a box of three champagnes on the metro, which was a very expensive lesson for me!

The best part is finally getting to drink the lovely wines that I bought!  I only drink them at dinner, where I can relax with my candlelight and my lovingly prepared foods, that goes with whatever wine I am serving.

I always think of the vintner that made them and in some ways, it is like having them join me.  I love sharing them with friends who are serious wine lovers, which makes it all more enjoyable.

As Brillat Savarin said ” a meal without wine, is like a day without sunshine” and I for one, couldn’t agree more!


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Chateau Chamarande is A Hidden Jewel Near Paris

chateau de chamarande_wchamarande chapel Chamarande fountain chamarande interior chamarande Louisiana cypress Chamarande river Juine 2 chamarande side view chamarande staircaseI had been intrigued several times by this lovely château, having had oChamarande water sculpturenly quick glimpses of part of her facade through the window of a suburban train heading south of Paris.  From afar, the images were striking and searing, if only for a second in passing,  and each time managed to chateau de chamarande_varoused my imagination.

It was only many years later that I set out to fully capture, what in the past was just a very brief image.    As I first walked onto the vast estate, I found myself surprised by her  immense size and exquisite beauty, never fully revealed from the passing train.

The first château was built in 811, but it was acquired in 1654 by an official collector of the salt tax.  The salt tax was one of the most rightfully hated of all taxes imposed on the populace, with collectors often taking bribes.

After being able to buy a statute of nobility, Pierre Mérault wanted a demur that would reflect and announce to all his newly noble status.    Château Chamarande was  redesigned and enlarged  at that time along the same  architectural motif as the Place des Voges in Paris.

Both are resplendent examples of Louis XIII style, and the similarities are indeed apparent.   The soft shades of orange and apricot lend a intricateness and feminine allure that looks outstanding against the greenery of the forested estate.

The exterior of the château remains very well-preserved, including the old stables, servant quarters and chapel.   Inside is a different story though, but at least for me, that only adds to her charm and intrigue.

As soon as I walked through the door of the château, I felt an immediate sense of sad resolve and of suspended time where hope slowly dwindled, but for what reason? There wasn’t any gaiety left in the walls, but only a quiet loneliness and a sense of things left to a fate beyond control.

It was only in doing research for this post, that I begin to understand my original feelings.  Old stones retain and give off the energies of those who lived within their walls.

The history given for the château paints a story of multiple proprietors after being sold by the newly noble tax collector.  Not surprising after the magnificent restoration, the original owner sank into mounting debts and had to sell the château in 1684.

Louis de Talaru, from an old noble family acquired the château and created the lake, the orangerie, the vegetable garden, the glaciere, the fountain and in general redesigned the grounds of the  whole estate.  His son, César de Talaru, after surviving being a soldier is the Seven Years War, went on to become the Premiere Maitre D’Hotel to queen Marie Antoinette, and was guillotined during the French Revolution.

Around 1850, the Duc de Persigny , who was appointed the ambassador to London under Napoleon III took ownership and added another gallery to the front.  His marriage to a woman 24 years his junior apparently wasn’t too happy as history notes that his wife never even attended his funeral.

In 1879, the château was bought by Anthony Boucicaut  the son of  the founders of the grand Parisian department store, Bon Marché, who added a farm and kennel, where their are resident goats and donkeys.   Unfortunately, another tragic premature death occurred, as he died the following year at the age of 41.Chamarande salle a manger

His widow remarried the adjoining mayor of the village, keeping the château in her hands until it was later purchased by one other person, before the department of Essonne acquired the property in 1978.   The château has only been somewhat restored, which to date comprises the main floor of the château.                                                                                                                                                           Currently chamarande view from the backthe  interior is being used to show contemporary art.  The walls as seen in the photo, that have been left uncovered  are showing their age, which I found to my liking.

As the French say this château  remains “dans son jus”, which literally translates to “in its juice” meaning having retained its original  look.  Perhaps a repainting was done many years ago, however there were minute tiny holes around the mouldings and the gold leaf was thin, peeling or rubbed off in spots.

The central wrought iron staircase leads to the second floor which is off-limits for visitors.  In peering through the keyhole of the locked doors to both wings, I saw a few brocaded chairs  amongst general disorder, waiting perhaps another day and the funds for restoration.

Likewise the adorable looking chapel isn’t open either, though the old stable and servant quarters is used for weekend activities reserved for school kids and groups.

The moats that surround the château are wide and impressive as is the wonderful wooded estate with a large central lake and a tributary of the river Juine, which supplied the water for the lake and moats.

Strategically placed wells provided the water for the huge vegetable garden that furnished the domain year round with foods for the table.  Frozen blocks of ice and snow from the winter were kept deep underground in caverns called a glaciere, which ensured cool beverages and sherbet during the summer months.

The orangerie, which most châteaux had, kept orange and lemon, pomegranate, and various other fragile plants alive during the freezing winter.  Built with its windows facing south, it could soak up the majority of sunshine available to maintain a greenhouse temperature.

An unusual aspect of the estate is the remnants of a once popular game called the jeu de l’oie, or goose game.  Basically the layout was shaped liked a spiral and resembles a labyrinth.

The player moves were dictated by a throw of the dice and they often found themselves running into dead ends until finally they gained admittance to a central temple of love.   I wonder if our on english expression of being on “a goose chase” might have derived from this Renaissance game.

Another mysterious element, is that in 1990, some archeological digs in the courtyard reveals evidence that the site was inhabited during the gallo roman times, dating from 52 BC to 486 AD.  Those digs obviously preceded a strange, in my view. addition to the château.

In 1999 the entire courtyard was dug down to 20 meters deep and now houses 8 levels of reading material from the whole département of Essonne.  Supposedly there are 32 kilometers underground space available for storing over 900 years worth of books, and etc, that are not open to the public.

The beautiful lake has a central island where one finds several bald cypress tress from Louisiana, as well as a few on the banks, where I almost slipped down in the surrounding mud to get a better view.

The estate prides itself of maintaining a microcosmic ecosystem of the grounds in order to maintain a biodiversity of nature.  Conversely, this leaning towards diversity, at least in an artistic vein, attempting to blend contemporary art into a Renaissance château, just seems oddly misplaced in my opinion.

Some semi abstract sculptures floating in the lake, though interesting from an artistic point of view, seemed nevertheless out-of-place, though cute.  More to the absolute absurd was lining the only fountain of the estate with white bathtubs, which for me was a silly distraction from the whole atmosphere.

Aside from this, the château and especially the peaceful surrounding park make for a wonderful Sunday stroll that has meditative possibilities, if  you are geared like I am to being naturally reflective.

Though it lacks the magnificent splendor of Versailles and Vaux le Vicomte, Château Chamarande offers a quieter peek into a château who still retains a more humble hominess and interiors  still suspended in time.   Despite her majestic expansiveness, for the many noble families who lived within her walls, it was first and foremost their home.


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Sunday by the Sea in Étretat

Etretat falaiseWaking up to a brilliant blue sky, especially on a warm sunny Sunday morning,  I found myself longing for the sea; the smells of the salty air, Etretat beachClaude_Monet-Etretat_the_Aval_door_fishing_boats_leaving_the_harbour_mg_1819-Monet Etretatetretat centerthe blue green hues of the ocean, and the squawking of the sea gulls.   Since Paris is only about 2 hours away by car to the beautiful beaches in Normandy, it was an easy decision to go.

Without much advance thought or preparation, we set out just before 10 am, armed with beach towels, flip flops, water, and last minute restaurant reviews.   Even though Deauville is closer and with a sweeping beach, we chose to head towards Étretat, for the very same reasons the Impressionists came there to paint.

Étretat is a small seaside village on the Normandy coast,slightly north of Le Havre.  What drew Monet, Courbet, Corot, and Boudin, wasn’t the beach, but the truly magnificent jutting falaises or cliff formations that are unique and intriguing.

Monet lived about 142 kilometers away on his Giverny estate, but would come several times a year to stay and paint, as seen in two of his famous renderings.     Guy de Maupassant grew up there and often wrote about his childhood memories.

Legend has it that Étretat was once a Viking village, that later inhabited Gallo Romans.  This once sleepy fishing village went unnoticed, until the Impressionists immortalized the sweeping panorama of the sea and the now famous cliffs.

The old seafront was destroyed by the Nazis, in WW II, including the casino, in order to increase a defensive view towards the sea.    The 12th century church of Notre Dame survived as did some of the old village buildings set away from the beach.

The center is dollhouse cute with the typical Normand style wood beam buildings. The old town’s marché displays a commemorative plaque to the UK and American forces, expressing gratitude for their Etretat plaqueetretat-panoramadeliverance.

As always, we weren’t the only ones heading to the coast for the first few days of spring like weather.  Uninitiated, I drove towards the center and found myself caught into a meandering web of tiny narrow streets, moving through at  a snail’s pace, until becoming literally trapped in a Sunday traffic jam of sun seekers.

Now a sought out tourist destination, Étretat built three huge parking lots on the outskirts, that I was unfortunately unaware of before attempting the impossible.  Freeing myself took a good 20 minutes, before I could even attempt to look elsewhere.

With the above parking lots full, this was proving to be more difficult to park than even in Paris!  Only with some luck, did I finally maneuver into a place, so tight against the  adjoining high rock, that I couldn’t exit out of  the driver’s side.

Having been unsuccessful in reserving a table at a new restaurant I was intent on trying, I was sulking somewhat as I usually do, if deprived of my gastronomic strivings.  Yes, I came for the beach after all, but had planed on a lovely lunch as part of the overall pleasure.

Traffic jams, and parking troubles had left me hungry, but since I couldn’t dine where I wanted, I allowed myself to be coaxed into what looked like a beachfront touristy place.  Intent on ordering whatever I felt they would have a hard time ruining, I settled on Moules Marinieres, or mussels, Provencal style.

I ordered a bottle of Normandy’s famous sparkling apple cider, brut, as I did not want the heaviness of any wines.    As soon as they put the huge pot of steaming mussels in front of me, clouds of herbs and garlic wafted up and I felt immediate relief , knowing that I stood a good chance after all of eating well, albeit much more simple and rustic than envisioned.

Sometimes simple well prepared pleasures can climb the ladder of top gastronomic memories, such as the first course of slender French green beans I ate on a boat returning from Morocco, or a platter of cream slathered fresh mushrooms, garlic and parsley in a small country village in Auvergne.

The mussels were succulently tender and perfumed perfectly with a bouillon of fresh tomatoes, white wine,onions, garlic, rosemary and thyme, nestled under the pile of mussels.  Honestly fresh and delicious!

Marinated mussels is a Normandy specialty, usually served alongside with French fries.  I like making them at home, minus the fries, because it is easy and fairly quick to do.  The only work involved in getting the tiny mussels out of their shells into your mouth!

Surprisingly delighted and well satiated, we headed to lay out on the beach!  The only drawback with Étretat, is that their beach is not covered with sand, but with millions of white pebbles.

Not easily walked on for any distance and rather murderous on bare feet, we spread our towels on the lumpy dumpy pebbles, which thank heavens were all nicely rounded and smooth.  Though I prefer a sand beach, we came for the ocean in our face and the mysterious cliffs seen in the photos.

The tide was coming in, catching a few off-guard with foamy white sprays of breaking waves.  The seagulls were floating nearby looking like they were enjoying gawking at all the tourists lying around everywhere.

I would have loved to have joined them bathing in the crystal clear waters, but even standing in the freezing cold tide for less than a minute proved too painful for me.  Nevertheless, I saw one brave soul frolicking nearby.

Staring out over the ocean makes me more reflective than I already am, which is my normal demeanor.  The rhythmic pounding of the waves puts me in a meditative mode, where I can just Be.

The ocean always reminds me of the rhythmic ebb and flow of life, the continuity of living that precedes us and will remain the same for eternity.  The untamed power one feels, as the huge waves roar onto shore, rolling and curling underneath, while unleashing tons of energy at the same time.

Just as the ocean sucks back to her depths the freshly oxygenated water from the shore, our lungs do the same in successive breaths till our dying day.  Our unconscious is as likewise as deep, murky and hidden as the deepest blue sea.

Within our human bodies we have multiple processes to maintain a constant ratio of salt and water, and other primary elements vital to life as much as the oceans and seas do.  Trashing our bodies with toxic foods and emotions is akin to clogging our oceans with our plastic refuse.

The oceans demonstrate visually every day the pull and gravity of the moon by the raising and lowering of tides.  With human bodies averaging about 57% of water composition ,we are also subject to  same physical laws, however unproven as of yet.

All those negative charged ions, given off by the sea recharge, uplift and refresh me, like an transfusion of joy. When you are surrounded by such beauty, even the hard pebbles underneath, like life’s everyday problems, can often be forgotten.

As the golden sun started to dip lower in the horizon, I knew it was time to start heading home, as the drive back promises a jammed pack route, with all the other Parisians returning to the city of Light. Saying goodbye to the seashore is difficult for me, as I feel much reluctance to be pulled away from such a revitalizing source.

As expected, 40 kilometers outside of Paris,  the cars all came to a stop, this time for an accident, then resumed to intermittent fluidity and a slow crawl. Hard to avoid this inevitable backup, unless one drives in extra early or very late.

The shimmering lights of the Eiffel Tower welcomed us back as we crossed the Seine, as if to celebrate our return.  Despite the much longer drive back, traffic jams and parking woes, it was all worth our little day trip to the sea, prompting promises of returning up and down the coast at least once a month!






Suicide Is Never The Answer

It was a quiet sunny Sunday morning, with a full roster of patients, when the charge sucidenurse on the adult ward, told me that one of the patients was missing, and that had left  a suicide note.  Fearing the worse, I reporting her missing to  the police and immediately ordered the locking down of the whole hospital.

At the beginning of my career, I supervised part time  on weekends, and though I had seen this happened several times before, it had never occurred when I was totally in charge.  The protocol was to begin a systematic search of every nook and cranny of the hospital.

Instead of starting with the public areas of the hospital, I intuitively felt drawn towards checking the floor where the library,dictating and occupational and leisure therapy rooms were located. It was generally quiet and devoid of any people on the weekends,but nevertheless accessible to patients.

Instead of starting at point A and going on to point B, my first gut feeling was to check the public bathrooms. Reasoning that if she hadn’t left the hospital, this would be where she would go to escape scrutiny to harm herself.

The door of the first one checked was indeed locked.  After calling out her name and getting no answer, the fear of what I might find behind the door flooded my mind.

I remember well, seeing her bluish white face laying in a pool of her blood that now filled the whole bathroom floor.  Floating in the toilet was her opened Bible, as a last testament to her  hopelessness that pushed her to end her life.

I quickly put my ear to her pale parted lips to check for breathing and palpated her neck for a pulse, neither of which could be felt.  Multiple slash wounds to her inner elbow and wrist veins were only now barely oozing blood, since her blood pressure was so low.

Her lips felt cool as I forced my breath into her lungs, then proceeded to pump her sternum with all the weight I could muster.  I had practiced this countless times on plastic dummies, but never before on a real human being.

In light of all the obvious blood loss, I was hoping that her pulse was too faint to feel, so I kept rhythmically pumping her chest and breathing whatever air and hope I could into her lifeless body.  Suddenly there was a flicker of one eyelid and the sound of a short attempt to suck in some air.

Unable to call for help, without leaving her, I wanted a few minutes to assure she was indeed able to breathe.  Rushing against time, I found a phone to call for emergency help, which arrived in minutes.

Some of us have had times in our lives where we felt so broken by life that each day , became a painful ordeal.  Losses, disappointments, rejection, abandonment, betrayals, and the list goes on of all the wounding humans suffer in living this life.

The heart can take only so much, before it seems to tear into a million irretrievable pieces, that we haven’t a clue and sometimes not even the desire to restore back in place. In those times, life becomes meaningless and without any substance that holds us here.

Wanting out of the pain becomes an obsession, an incessant desire to end it all.  Many have come to the brink of falling into this dark oblivion, a path once taken, that has no recourse.

When you are at the end of your rope, and only the deepening shadows of darkness surrounds you, you are totally unable to see any light at all at the end of the tunnel. You can even resent those foolish fools who still value life, who in your mind  feed you their  optimistic “garbage.”

For patients, convinced that suicide is the only option, wanting to die consumes them like a wind-blown fire.   Some can even take on a fake cheerful demeanour before a suicide attempt.

For me, this is when I become the most fearful for them and lose the most sleep.  How do I try to save them with mere words, and my choicest heartfelt concerns?  My fight isn’t only for them, but for those they would leave behind, sentenced forever to suffer too.

Every therapist has to confront the inevitable truth, and that is that none of us, however talented we might be, can save anyone.  However one invests in saving the life of a patient, the ultimate overriding decision comes from the patient.

We can only hope to influence them enough by whatever we can do, and say, to avoid any fatal decisions.  But even at our very best, we are never fully the determining factor.                                                                                                                                                      In the end, we are wounded healers,  who call out to the depths of their sufferings souls, pleading in any way we can to save them from the ultimate fate of death by their own hands.

I do let them know that suicide is the most selfish and cruel act to afflict on those they will be leaving behind.  However gentle by nature I am, this is a time when I do not mince words and become authoritatively intervening.

I flood them with the dirty unescapable truths of suicide.  They may think that they will escape the pain they so desperately want to leave behind, but only their body will die, not their consciousness ,nor their soul, and especially not their pain, which will follow them.

Their children and or families will suffer untold quilt and pain, and sheer cold abandonment that will never be healed.  Sadly, children of suicide victims, are more apt to choose suicide themselves ,when life in turn get rough for them.

For those who do survive the darkness that pervades them, it is a mysterious act of Grace.   Yet, even the aftermath of surviving seems an impossible task.

Picking up the pieces after a suicidal gesture or attempt is treading on uncharted waters for any who was so determined to leave this life.  Some are angry that they were deprived of their well laid out plans to kill themselves, and others are reluctantly grateful to see another day.

When I visited the woman mentioned in my story, it was a sweet reward to hug her now warm shoulders.   She thanked me for her rescue, saying she now knew how much she was loved and needed.

Situationnally precipitated suicides such as devastating losses of relationship, or jobs for example; putting back the shattered pieces of their lives seems at times an impossible task, not only for the patient but for the most altruistic therapist. Reorienting their vision of themselves in relation to their loss is difficult, but something we all have to do sometime in our lifetime.

For those whose suicidal gestures and attempts  followed a severe  breakthrough depression, in the case of bipolar patients, it is a matter of changing medicines or mood stabilizers and following them more closely to maintain stability.

I remember one patient was only able to give up turning to suicide, after her last and most serious attempt was jumping off a very high bridge.  She recounted feeling a presence or force that buffeted her fall, resulting in her miraculously hitting the water with little injuries, that kept her afloat to be rescued.

Life changes, and what was a very painful loss of a relationship, or job can lead to newer and even better opportunities to fulfil one’s dreams.  Resiliency is the key and of course patience to cross over the stormy seas of life to a tranquil and peaceful shore.

I have witnessed incredible changes of events for those, whose lives were on the brink of a needless death, but took the courage to stick life out, despite their pain.  Human life,  resorts to the same forces of homeostasis that one finds in nature to restore what was loss.

Survivors will certainly grow stronger, and with hard work on themselves, can go beyond that which threatened to end their lives.  In the scope of their recovery, they realise that suicide was never the answer, but living through the pain is what leads them to the  path of strength, insight, and  healing.


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Skiing Drunks In The Alps

skier drinkingIf avalanches weren’t bad enough, now you have to be on the lookout for drunk skiers!  According to ski patrol monitors in Austria and in France,  there is a growing problem of dodging inebriated skiers.

We already know the dangers of driving a car , flying an airplane , or piloting a boat under the ski barskier drunkinfluence, but skiing down a mountain?  Thank about it!

To my mere observation and train of thought, skiing certainly seems to require much more athletic skills, motor coordination and balance Excuse to drinkthan sitting behind the wheel of a car.  With downhill skiing, hitting speeds well over 100 kilometers per hour, you would need acutely coordinated and instantaneous cerebral muscular interactions or else!

Not only do you have to avoid other skiers and of course trees and huge rocks, but handling all the twists and turns needed to ski, while inebriated can be rather difficult with a few beers under your belt!  Additionally, alcohol has the marvelous capacity to heighten a false sense of confidence, that can easily seduce any skier to take on a slope beyond his level of expertise!.

Alcohol related skiing accidents are on the rise according to Austrian and French Alpine ski resorts.  A study done in Austria found one in five skied drunk and that 29% of all accidents were attributed to an alcohol level higher than .5 grammes alcohol per liter of blood, which is the legal level to drive in both Austria and France.

Not surprising, the major offenders are the younger skiers, who come not only for a week of intense thrill seeking but for all the peripheral pleasures associated with snow resorts.  Party time on the  slopes gets in high gear by noon of each day, after a few morning downhill descents ,working up an appetite for an afternoon of booze and conviviality.

Dancing high on open air table tops or snow covered slopes, while mists of falling snow tickle your face might make for great fun for those inclined and be fairly innocuous, as long as the skis remain leaning against the walls.

Putting skies on a pair of already unsteady legs, is like handing a dangerous weapon to a kid. Unleashing them to navigate down a slippery mountain reaching tremendous speeds is not only life threatening to themselves, but the other sober skiers in their path.

Ski authorities in both countries point fingers more in the direction of tourists from the United Kingdom and Scandinavian.  Both have a reputation of being heavy drinkers, whose ideas of a fun night out is getting ass dragging drunk.

My own little glimpse of Scandinavian drinkers was this summer, when I was blown away by the mountains of alcoholic beverages purchased on the ferries heading back to the Scandinavian countries from Estonia and Russia.

The popular French alpine resorts of Val d’Isere, Val Thorens and Meribel, in an effort of prevention,  have decided to try to sensitize the public about the dangers of skiing after drinking alcohol.  Breathalyzers tests are now sold in discotheques, bars and restaurants on the slopes.

Many clubs are now limiting the sale of alcohol to beer, wine and champagne.  Whether  or not that will have any impact is yet to be seen, as merry making skiers can certainly imbibe enough of those lower alcohol beverages to be as wobbly as the hard stuff.

Regardless of the beverage, any thing over .5 decreases motor reactivity and lateral vision. By .8, you will have a decrease in vigilance, reasoning , concentration and problems in coordinating and synchronizing movement

The boosts of confidence from alcohol and decreased reasoning make for dangerous bedfellows on snow-covered slopes. Since the majority of avalanches are triggered by the victims that risk dying in them, ignoring avalanche warnings are easier to do with the false sense of security that alcohol enhances.

Adding fuel to the fire, is the increasing number of skiers skiing “hors piste” or off manicured and monitored slopes.  With clouded reasoning and decreased concentration to details, boozing skiers would pay much less attention to avoiding these dangerous thrill seeking slopes.

Many French snow stations are now giving out fines to those found skiing drunk.  Likewise, thy have sanctions to remove anyone perceived inebriated from the slopes or prevent them from skiing.

A lot of personal is involved in bringing down injured skiers on stretchers, and accidents caused by alcohol, then those skiers will be made to pay extras for these services.  Additionally, besides being fined, they risk even doing jail time.

The slippery slopes will always attract the athletic minded for fun and shere pleasure of racing down a mountain, but risks abound, even for those well-trained sober athletes and professional skiers.

Broken bones, however painful are not generally life threatening nor impairing, but spinal injuries, asphyxiation, and cerebral concussions are.  Prince Friso, brother of the Dutch king ,died last year after a year-long coma, from skiing off piste, triggering an avalanche.

Recently at Sochi, Russian olympic skier Maria Komissarova, suffered a paralyzing spinal injury and famous German race car driver, Michael Schumacher remains hospitalized in a coma from a fall in December.

This Louisiana girl gave up skiing after two frightening attempts in Vermont and in Innsbruck, Austria; therefore I am writing as an observer, not a skier.  Growing up on the flatlands of the Mississippi delta, being in high altitudes already make me somewhat uneasy.

The brief time I lived near the French Alps, I marveled more over the snow caps views, rather than being on top of them.  Just hearing the whooshing sounds of skiers flying past on slopes was frightening enough!

I did enjoy hiking in the snow, but trekking around on rackets or snow shoes was my pinnacle of snow sports.  I am much more at ease being a snow bunny in front of a roaring fire, or in a bubbling spa,  sipping my cold glass of roussette de Savoie, or champagne and enjoying my tartiflette, thank you.

I know some of my faithful readers are accomplished skiers, so I would love to hear from you thrill seekers.  Whether or not any of you may have, in your more carefree and mindless moments, skied under the influence, I am sure you could share a few anecdotes of your own!


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    It happens every season, winter or summer on Mont Blanc to such an extent , it's always predictable that several unfortunate  persons will meet their death on the pristine slopes on the tallest mountain in Europe.  This past week was especially tragic in that 10 skiers, climbers and even a mountain patroller died. From afar…
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The Making of Professional Chefs At École Ferrandi

Copper cusine 2croquembouche makingcream puffseaster eggs ferrandiferandi pastry students 2Ferrandi amuse bouchesferrandi gateaux for saleferrandi pastries for saleferrandi pastry studentsferrandi tartes aux pommesnougatine makingpastry class3ferrandi pastry studentsferrandi table aux fleursferrandi ice sculptingÉcole Ferrandi de La Gastronomie Francaise puts out some of the most gifted and famous chefs here in France and throughout the world.    Known as the Harvard of culinary schools, the name Ferrandi is well known and respected within the inner circle of restaurateurs worldwide.

I have a special connection to Ferrandi, for it is where my son, who is an executive chef back in states,  studied several years ago.     I went back to see the school the other weekend to show a young friend around during their Portes Ouvert, a time where they welcome the public in to see first hand all of their facilities.

Seeing their multiple gleaming stainless steel kitchens to the various laboratories again, all brought back many memories for me.    I was fortunate to have been invited several times to try out the delicious creations  that the students prepared for family and friends.

Throughout the year,  the student chefs worked up a regional menu from different parts of France, highlighting various regional specialities.  These were sit down affairs lasting   three to four hours composed of multiple courses with an aperitif and the wines of the region,offering great food for the invitees.

Ferrandi was started in 1920 by the Parisian chamber of commerce and industry, which still financially underwrites much of the school.  This assures that all the pride, glory and prestige of French cuisine is reflected throughout in a grand manner.

With the popularity of televised programs such as Top Chef and Master Chef and the stardom achieved by chefs here, the school has grown to recently opening a branch in Bordeaux.  A big plus for Ferrandi students is the exposure they get from famous chefs who come to offer demonstration courses in their amphitheater.

The school boosts state of the art equipment in 15 kitchens and 5 laboratories. The students get the very best foods that France reaps from her oceans and lands to create their delicious masterpieces.

Though technique obviously is primordial in preparing future professional chefs, they need to know how to recognise and choose excellence in primary ingredients.   Developing a seasoned palate is essential in order to correctly execute dishes.

For that reason,  Ferrandi orders only the freshest and best of everything, from pristinely fresh fish and shellfish, first-rate vegetables, renown poultry, prized meats and last but not least, the freshest of  artisanal foie gras and truffles.  The students literally work with only the best that France has to offer.

I remember my son raving about the foie gras he used as having arrived directly from an artisanal farm via the TGV train, within a 6 hour time frame from having been taken from the foie gras duck.

Several of the professors have won the prestigious Bocuse D’Or or MOF, Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, which are awards given to the highest levels of competence in various culinary professions, such as pastry, baking, chocolate, cooking and ice creams, amongst others.

You might notice that some of the students in the photos are quite young, because Ferrandi also provides a professional high school education to students who have decided as a very tender age of 15 to enter the culinary arts, be it a chef, baker or pastry maker.

They also have culinary programs in cooking, baking and pastry for international students taught in english and french.  All international programs consist of months of skill training and food preparation and end with stages, which are on hands experience in starred restaurants or pastry shops.

The higher levels of training are for students who have already completed a French high school baccalaureate and want to earn a university equivalent degree in pastry, baking, cooking, or restaurant management.  They  generally last three years and always end with several months experience in famous starred restaurants.

For those already in the culinary arts, the school offers post-graduate and tailor-made courses for professionals to enlarge their expertise in several cooking, catering or baking specialties.

All students enjoy school organised trips throughout France that focus on discovering each regions specialities in food and wine, that are a bargain in terms of on site visiting of producers and eating in acclaimed area restaurants.

People are often surprised that Ferrandi also trains future maitre d’hotels and servers for 2 to 3 years.  Their destinies are not to work in mom and pop or chain restaurants but in elite and famous gastronomic establishments where the art of serving is taken to a lofty level of expertise and care, that can define the restaurant’s overall prestige as well as the chef in so far as providing a gastronomic dining experience.

With all the glorious food the students prepare, Ferrandi offers two in-house restaurants for them to practice cooking  and serving  real patrons.  I can testify that their restaurant is a choice hidden jewel !

Where else, in the heart of Paris can you have a multi course gastronomic experience for 25 to 45 euros?  Lunches are 25 euros and the dinners or 40 to 45 depending on the levels of training of the students that are preparing your dishes.

The wine list may be limited, but is impressive for the quality of bottles offered at extremely reasonable prices, that you hardly will find in any Paris restaurant.  A plus for me was seeing the incredible effort put forth by the student servers wanting to score as much perfection as the student chefs, especially performing intricate table side carving and finishing off some of the dishes in front of their patrons.

Although Ferrandi restaurant may be a well-kept secret , it’s not for those in the culinary know, as their restaurant is completely booked till June for evenings, and only a few slots left each month for lunch.

Here is their website, where the front page offers a click onto their international programs for those interested.   One of the international students I talked to had left her government law job in Washington DC to pursue a personal dream of being a pastry chef.

One thing very noticeable, is the influx of female students.  Though the industry is still male dominated, women chefs and pastry chefs are on the rise, even here in France.

An exception to that tradition was in Lyon, France’s third largest city, where it was les meres Lyonnaise in their small bistros that brought Lyonnaise cooking to the eminence of being called the heart and best of French cooking.

If you ask most French chefs today, they will tell you that their interest in cooking was initiated by their mothers and grandmothers passionate outpourings in the family kitchen.   I know that my own son was well indoctrinated at an early age, seeing me with my flour dusted elbows making croissants, pastries and brioche, along with a nightly feast worthy of a king’s ransom!

Being a chef is very hard work requiring much skilful precision to detail and a constant striving towards perfection, expected by patrons.  The hours are awful and the demands are seemingly never met in a days time.

The rewards are knowing that you are creating beautiful enjoyable moments and a memorable dining experience for those in search of gastronomic pleasures.  I know I have had lifetime memories because of these gifted chefs in the past, and now I am enjoying creating new ones thanks to the hands of my own talented son, and Ferrandi graduate ,chef Andre!

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One of My Heart’s Delights

Valentine's Dacquoise aux framboisesvalentine Dacquoise 2014With all the baking and pastry making I have been doing these past several weeks, I ended up accumulating quite a large amount of egg whites.  The first thing that comes to me, in so far as to what to do with all these unused egg whites is to make dacquoise!

Dacquoise is a french name for meringue baked with ground almonds and hazelnuts that comes out extremely crisp, but when married with various fillings becomes softer, yet still retains a succulent subtle crispness.  Visually they make stunning desserts, because you can shape them in whatever design pleases you and can be filled and layered with a multitude of flavor combinations.

I have been making dacquoise type pastries since my early twenties, starting with the famous oblong chocolate, vanilla and praline filled gateau Marjolaine, which was the magnificent signature desert of Fernand Point’s renown restaurant many years ago.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         I made five heart-shaped meringue dacquoises on Valentine’s day, with the intention of filling one with caramel au beurre salé mousse and chocolate ganache and the other with raspberries.   Once the meringue is made, they can keep perfectly in a dry oven for several days till filled.

Some of my favorite fillings are lemon cream and raspberry, and the one I made sunday ended up being filled with plain almond flavored whipped cream and raspberries.    I had just come home from walking around the gardens of  a chateau south of Paris late in the afternoon, when I discovered I was missing egg yolks for the mousse, making the raspberry version the only one possible last night.

That was perfectly fine with me, because I frankly never tire of anything with those bright beautiful berries. The best come form your own raspberry bushes, which I was lucky enough to have had in my garden for at least one season, when I lived for a few months in a small French village near the Swiss border.

The technique involved isn’t too difficult if you know how to beat the whites correctly and not deflate your egg whites while folding in the ground nut and sugar mixture. The trickiest part can be getting the baked meringues to come off without breaking into a million crumbs, but non stick baking paper makes that easier if baked long enough at a low temperature.

Keys to success are correctly measuring the amount of egg whites versus sugar, which I prefer to do in grams now and not making them or any meringues for that matter, on rainy days.  I remember it being more difficult to do them in Louisiana, where days, even without rain are often high in humidity.

My caramel and chocolate version will have to wait till next sunday, as finishing off just one is good enough for me in a week’s time!  Anyhow, the raspberry dacquoise went perfectly with the Nicolas Feuillatte Rosé Champagne, making it a grand finale to a perfect Valentine celebration. Heart filled hugs to all!


Saint Raphael; Divine Matchmaker and Healer

St_Raphael_the_Archangel_iconFor all of my beautiful single readers, this post is for you!  You already know that dreaded  Saint Valentine’s day is approaching, which can be quite vexing, even painful, for those without love companions.  Instead of telling you to be your own valentine and buy yourself some flowers or chocolates, which I hope you do regularly anyway,  why not invoke the help of Archangel Saint Raphael, who is much more invested in helping you find your true love!

Saint Raphael is one of seven archangels mentioned in the Judaic-Christian scripture  that sit at the throne of God.   Archangels are top ranked angels so to speak and are underRaphael and TobiasArchangel Raphaelsaint_raphael with a fish the direct command of God to serve out His missions.

Of the archangels, the chief ones are Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.  Archangel Raphael means “God’s Healing”, or God’s Medicine, as rafa is hebrew for healing and el for God.

Saint Raphael wears many hats.  Besides being the patron saint of physicians, nurses and all medical workers, he is also noted to protect travelers, the blind, and is a marvelous matchmaker.

Archangel Raphael is most mentioned in detail in the Book of Tobit, considered a canonical text for Catholic, Orthodox Christians and Anglicans.  In the new testament, John:5 1-4, Raphael was the healing angel inferred that descended and stirred the healing pool of Bethesda.

In the book of Tobit, there is the delightful story of God sending Raphael on a mission of healing and matchmaking. The angel tasks were to journey with a young man named Tobias and arrange for him to meet his future wife Sarah, who Raphael was sent  to heal as well as Tobias ageing blind father.

To accomplish his missions, Raphael takes on the human form of a handsome young man, whom he introduces himself to the young Tobias as Azariah. Knowing that Tobias had been sent by his ageing father Tobit to Media to collect a sum of money, he tells Tobias that he knows the way, all along with the intent of introducing Tobias to his future wife.

Raphael, Tobias and his faithful dog set out on their journey and eventually stop to rest and wash by the banks of the Tigris river.  There a huge fish flops out of the water and under Raphael’s instruction, the fish is killed and its liver, heart and gallbladder are preserved with salt.   He then reveals to Tobias that these organs will be used as medicinal agents to heal.

Sarah, the troubled intended future wife, had suffered from a horrible situation, where each of her seven husbands were killed by an evil demon before their union could be consummated. Obviously distraught and fearful that any man would succumb to the same fate, she remained alone and unmarried.

After introducing Tobias to Sarah, love bloomed and the marriage was arranged.  Archangel Raphael instructed Tobias to burn the heart and liver on his wedding night to destroy the evil spirit, who was indeed banished.

When Tobias brought his bride home to meet his father, the angel told him to apply the gallbladder to his blind father’s eyes, healing his father of his blindness.  At that time, Azariah reveals his true identity as archangel Raphael and then returns to heaven.

Paintings and icons of him often depict him with a fish and or with a jar of medicinal balms and leading by hand those he guides.   His healing colours are shades of green from shimmery light ones to emerald-green.

Prayers to invoke his help are numerous, but the special one for “happy meetings” is as follows.

O Raphael, lead us towards those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us!  Raphael, Angel of happy meetings, lead us by the hand towards those we are looking for!  May all our movements, all their movements be guided by your Light and transfigured by your joy.

Angel guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of Him on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze.  Lonely and tired, crushed by the separation and sorrows of earth, we feel the need of calling to you and pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the Province of Joy.

Remember the weak, you who are strong, you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene, and bright with the resplendent glory of God.  Amen.

For those who are intent on asking Saint Raphael’s help and are comfortable with the Catholic tradition of novenas, then this prayer is to be said consecutively for 9 days.  I might add, that to enlighten the experience and help symbolise your prayer, that you light a red candle, the colour of love while you say this beautiful prayer.

For those of you who also have a broken heart, then Saint Raphael is the perfect and most appropriate saint to ask for help and intercession.  As God’s healing angel, he brings and imparts God’s healing Light and Love for  all afflictions.

Father Joseph Whalen, who has a healing ministry at is a late vocation Roman Catholic priest in Connecticut, who attributes his own healing to the intercession of Saint Raphael.  His story of healing and his calling into the priesthood is very interesting and unusual.

His site is a wealth of information and testimonials to Saint Raphael, and he will send you a vial of blessed oil for those who request it.

Even though Raphael’s feast day is celebrated along with Michael and Gabriel on September 29, I feel he deserves a day of his own!  So for all you beautiful singles, Happy Saint Raphael day and prayers to all who are looking for lasting love!