Walking The New Riverwalk On The Seine

Seine louisiane BelleSeine pont AlexandreBateau MouchesSeine batobus near LouvreSeine ZZZZ cabinsSeine wall climbingIf I can’t walk along the ocean, which is two hours away, then I absolutely love walking along the banks of the Seine any time day or night.   Of course the great advantage of walking along this mythic river rustling powerfully through Paris is that you have the gorgeous backdrop of the city at every angle.

I spent most of this past weekend walking again around the recently opened left bank riverwalk, called Les Berges, where I caught a glimpse of the Louisiane Belle, seen above.    The city of Paris has a made a monumental effort to bring back the multiple pleasures associated with the river, that were so in fashion during the Belle Epoque.

The Seine has been the main artery of life here since its early existence, founded by the Parisii tribe,  on Ile de La Cité around 350 BC.    The actual source of the Seine begins as a small outpouring of water  in Burgundy and empties into the English Channel at Le Havre.

The first banks of Paris, called quais were built in the early 1500′s.  Though the river had always provided a means of bringing in foods and equipment from the surrounding areas, it wasn’t till later that it became a source of leisure and nautical pleasure.

Small riverside or floating restaurants, called quinguettes started to proliferate along the Seine, west of the city and east along the Marne, in the 1700′s.  The name comes from the local cheap wines that was produced in the surrounding villages.

There you could spend hours eating, drinking and dancing while watching the canoes  rowing in front of you.    These were often the gathering places of the impressionistic painters, who immortalized  the flourishing quinguettes society, with many paintings, such as Auguste Renoir, in his Déjeuner de Canotiers.

As the Seine became progressively more polluted, this popular culture started to die out, except for the guinguettes along the Marne, which is still going strong today.  By 1960, parts of the quais in Paris were turned into roadways;  that although they provided a very scenic drive through the center, they also were heavy contributors of pollution and noise.

With the waters of Seine now cleaned up after years of strenuous efforts, the river culture and guinguettes are back in full force!!  Though the auto club of Paris was angered by the closure of the left bank  thoroughfare, the mayor’s office is wanting to get rid of most of them in favour of bringing back the banks of the Seine to the Parisians to stroll about.

Seine isletsSeine tipisMassages SeineSeine festivalParis mushroomsSeine festival  productsSeine portraits Juliette GrecoEel of the SeineSeine BremeLes Berges is a 2.3 kilometer riverwalk that starts around Pont de de L’Alma and goes all the way to the Musée d’Orsay.  This stretch would correspond to the Champs Elysées area towards the Tulleries gardens and the Louvre on the opposite side.

I was very impressed by the cities’ efforts to create part of the walk into a space of zen and  relaxation amongst floating islets of greenery planted with various fruits tress and berry bushes  with water willows that welcome the nesting of various birds.

There are pleasures and activities for all ages, offering various classes from yoga to boxing for the fun seeking and just pure relaxing in the sun and fresh air.  Weekends though, you are hard pressed to find a free hammock and chaise lounge without a wait, but there are other paying options!

Most creative are the country inspired green cabins, called  ZZZ for hourly rent seen in the photos, where you can picnic or snooze on your own patio watching all the bateau mouches plying up and down the Seine or snuggle inside in colder weather.

Then there are  tipis  for rent, perfect for families  or parties in a unique setting.  Kiddies were loving the wall climbing equipment, wall drawings and pole tennis, but obviously parents have a heavy responsibility in keeping perfect watch over their little ones away from the river, which made me nervous for them.

Sunday, there was a festival celebrating the local food products and produce of Ile de France, so it was especially crowded.  I had to dodge a thicket of  tiny ones weaving in and out on their scooters  and bikes as they often are not paying attention to their path.  Fortunately there were little niches of quiet and serenity on the floating islets to avoid the clamour and restore a sense of countryside tranquillity.

There were also mobile green caverns where you entered to plunge into fern lined walls and sprays of refreshing cooling mists that offered a  momentary zen respite from the crowds. If that isn’t enough there were massage therapists on hand to soothe away your stress.

The entire strip offers wonderful terraces, some on the banks and some floating ones to linger away the time, either people watching or gazing at the ever present river traffic, while sipping on your beverage of choice.

The most comfortable looking lounge chairs were at Le Flow, which was indeed overflowing with patrons soaking up the sun.  The most reasonable wine prices and tapas were at Rosa Bonheur, a new floating restaurant offering direct views over the water.

A upscale restaurant, Faust, just opened tucked under the Pont Alexandre III, which I consider to be the most beautiful bridge in Paris. It has  a starred chef who presided over the Matignon palace, the official residence of the French prime minister.

The glass rooftop of the Grand Palais is just across the river and sitting along the banks offers extraordinary close up views of Pont Alexandre, this magnificent ornate bridge built in 1896, with its golden nymphs, cherubs and winged horsemen, that is even more breathtaking at night.

The last part of the riverwalk extends to the Musée d’Orsay , where it becomes less crowded and there is an exhibit of famous stars that were once photographed on the banks of the Seine, such as Truman Capote and Juliette Greco.Seine Truman Capote

All in all it makes for a wonderful and breezy stroll with captivating scenery on both sides.  A few fisherman were out trying their luck, but I didn’t notice any catches.

There is an open air “museum” with pictorial  information about the major fishes that call the Seine home.  The most exotic in my mind would be the eels that leave the river and head towards the Saragossa sea to reproduce.

The current remains very strong and treacherous , which is a good deterrent for those crazy enough to risk their lives in  swimming across.  With all the many tourist boats, bus boats, river police patrols in addition to various huge barges coming and going, there is a lot of action, wakes and waves.

Though it does not have the intimate romantic appeal of walking around the banks of Ile Saint Louis, behind Notre Dame, which has its own aura of dreaminess from another time, especially at night,  it gives you another wide open dimension of this beautiful river that has sustained and nourished Paris from the beginning of time.

As the clouds came in the early evening,  the cool Seine breezes became a little chilly Coconut cake sunday september 14 2014prompting us to return home.  Fortunately I had already finished up a French fresh coconut cake, in memory of my Southern grandmother who lived on a bayou and  always baked me her southern version on my birthdays.

Mine was made from genoise layers, soaked in pineapple and rum, filled with crushed pineapple, coconut and whipped cream, then covered in a snowy blanket of more cream and grated coconut.  I think she would have loved walking along the Seine today and eating my version too!.

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The Hidden Queen Of King Louis XIV, A True Cinderella Story

madame de maintenon portrait at chaeauchateau Mintenon  gardensChâteau Maintenon 2014chateau Maintenon aquaductMadame Maintenon bedroommadame Maintenon house for doggiesMadame Maintenon pianoThis is an incredible story of a woman who was born in the most unfortunate circumstances, yet whose fabulous destiny was to become the dearly beloved mistress/companion of Louis XIV and his hidden queen of France!

This is a cinderella fairy tale that is rich in romanticism and the triumph of goodness.   How a young woman’s life, in all of its twists and turns, was finally rewarded for her gift of kindness and tolerance.

Françoise d’Aubigné was born in a prison, on 27 November, 1635, in the rather drab town of Niort, near the Atlantic coast in central France.   Her father, who came from a well known Huguenot protestant family in the area,  was imprisoned for murder and her mother was the jailer’s daughter.

Upon her father’s release,  the family went to live in Martinique, a part of the French Antilles islands in the Caribbean, where they lived in near poverty for six years. After she returned to France with her mother, known to be harsh, she learned that her father had died and soon after lost her mother.

Little Françoise was placed in the care of her loving paternal aunt, where she was doted upon and cared for as never before.  Though she was baptised in her mother’s Roman Catholic faith, she was brought up Protestant, till her catholic godmother placed her in a convent against her will.

It was there, in part due to a very kind Sister Celeste, that Françoise, embraced her baptismal Catholic faith.  Transferred to a convent in Paris, her godmother, started introducing her to the Parisian salons, where she was nicknamed the “belle Indienne”, in reference to her time living in Martinique.

There she met the literary and artistic greats of Parisian society, along with some of the  nobility and  courtesans of the royal court.  One of these artists, was Paul Scarron, a renown poet, that took a liking to the young Françoise.

Taking advantage of her young age, her penniless position, and being fragelized by the loss of her parents, he proposed that he would fund her reentrance to a convent or offer her a proposal of marriage.

At the mere age of 16, Françoise married this man who was 25 years older than she and was extremely handicapped, confined to a wheelchair.  For the next eight years, she was his nurse and kind companion to this man, who probably brought her a paternal presence she had been denied.

She developed quite a coterie of friends and admirers, and maintained a good reputation. One of these , was Anne d’Autriche, the mother of king Louis XIV, who admired her faith filled piety.

In 1660, Paul Scarron died, but unfortunately did not leave her anything but his debts..  Once again penniless, her fairy god mother , Anne d’ Autriche, out of compassion of this young  24 year old woman, arranged with her son that Françoise be given a monthly stipend.

Several years later, her destiny took anther fortuitous turn that would eventually lead her into the arms of her beloved king.   She had been befriended in the past  by Madame de Montespan,  the long time mistress of Louis XIV, who would also play a pivotal role in her LouisXIVMadame Maintenon er Louis XIVdestiny.

Françoise was invited by Mme de Montespan  to take over the position of nursemaid and nanny of her seven illegitimate children by the king.   They were housed in a large house in Paris, and it was there, that Françoise met Louis XIV, around 1669, who was said to be fond and attentive to his many children.

The king was extremely takenMadame maintenon marriage to Louis XIVVersailles royal chapelVersailles frescaMADAME MAINTENON AND NIECE by her sincere sweetness, maternalism  and concern over his children, noticing how she loved them freely as if they were her own.   She was said to have initially rebuffed any romantic advances towards her out of respect of his marriage to his queen and her own morals.

Françoise had a completely different personality from the king’s mistress Mme de Montespan, who was given towards sharp, biting, or sarcastic remarks that bordered on cruelty and constant fits of anger.

Louis XIV was noted to linger on in conversation with Françoise on many occasions who he found likewise intelligence and to possess much wisdom.  Knowing her love for her former island residence of Martinique, he enabled her to have a tobacco plantation there.

With the monies she received in selling her tobacco farm, she was able to buy a château near Chartres in the town of Maintenon.  In due time, she was given by the king, the title of Madame de Maintenon.

Françoise continued to be very involved with the care of the kings children and they often stayed with her at Chateau de Maintenon.  Not surprisingly the relationship between Mme de Montespan and Françoise eventually became increasingly strained and filled with jealously.

Eventually Mme de Montespan started to lose favour of the king as  Françoise continued to gain even more time and influence over him. Chronically unfaithful , Louis XIV became involved with yet another woman, who died giving birth to another of his many illegitimate children.

Concerned about the welfare of these children, historians say it was pius Françoise who convinced Louis XIV to legitimise all of children born out-of-wedlock. She was also credited with encouraging him to be more attentive and kind to his queen Maria Theresa, who he had for many year neglected, other than to provide heirs to the throne.

When Maria Therese died, many in the court had proposed that he seek another royal marriage, but Louis, perhaps by this time concerned about his chronic sins of the flesh refused.  Several months later on October 10, 1683, he married Françoise d’Aubigné in a secret ceremony in the royal chapel, seen in the photo.

The ceremony took place at midnight and the exchange of vows was only witnessed by several high ranking clergy.  Their marriage was “morganatic”, meaning that it could not be officially announced as a royal marriage due to his spouse’s very common origins.

Louis XIV though, made no secret of the marriage to the court and often conducted royal affairs within close vicinity of his secret queen, often asking her opinion and advice.  He was said to have lived the rest of his life in a more sedate  manner, though he still had occasional extramarital affairs.

During her unofficial reign, Françoise encouraged the kIng to invest more into the French Caribbean islands, which successfully started to grow sugar cane, and then rum making, which today, is one of their major exports.

Louis XIV was a difficult man to love, who besides remaining unfaithful , was at times critical of his second wife’s origins and first marriage.  Françoise was often disliked by the rest of the royal family and was unfairly criticized and blamed by some members of the court.

Her greatest achievement was setting up a school for impoverished young girls, near Versailles, which occupied much of her time.   Three days before Louis XIV died in 1715, she left Versailles, perhaps wearied by the immense tolerance of his lifestyle, and conflicts she had to put up with in the court.

After his death, she divided her time between her flourishing school and her beautiful Chateau Maintenon, seen in several photos that I took two weeks ago.  She much preferred her home there to the very lavish and extravagant royal quarters that she had shared with the king at Versailles.

The château is surrounded with a moat and in back there is a large manicured garden full of various flowers and perfumed roses in front of a large lake that leads to the aqueduct.  Her bedroom was lovely and feminine that housed a three portal house for her doggies and the beautifully decorated piano in her music room.

The energy I felt at Chateau Maintenon must have been imbibed with her kindness and there was a quiet sweetness and intimacy in the air. This is in contrast to the glamorous and immense splendour of Versailles , that seemed rather impersonal, when I revisited the palace  this weekend.

Françoise died on april 15, 1719 and was buried at the school she founded, that was later turned into a military academy during the revolution, now called Saint Cyr.  Childless, she left all of her inheritance to her niece seen in a photo above, whose descendants still maintain the chateau.  Though, she was never able to be buried next to her beloved king, her coffin, as well as all of the members of the royal family suffered the same fate of desecration by revolutionaries.

Her fairytale destiny took her into the heart of the most majestic royal palace in the world, and to the heart of Louis XIV, who loved her more than any other woman.  I am sure that was more important to her that any bejeweled crown, because for Françoise, it was her heart that reigned supreme with her king.





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Saying Goodbye To August Is Hard To Do

I love Paris in the springtime, I love Paris in the fall, I love Paris in the winter when it Bateau Mouche 2014drizzlesBatobus 2014, I love Paris  in the summer when it sizzles? , but most of all I love in August!   For me, however strange it may seem, it is always hard to say goodbye to August for some personal and seasonal preferences, especially  giving KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERANotre Dame Assumption 2014Parc Montsouris 2014MirabellesTarte aux Mirabelles 2014Balcony Flowers summer 2014up whatever warm summer weather we might have had, which wasn’t much this year!

I adore August for what it does have, and doesn’t  the rest of the year!   Yet, I had no idea before I moved here that I would love August in Paris for what is missing!

Though August rarely sizzles heat wise, it is usually the most generous of warm days and nights; this year being an exception with one of the coolest and rainiest on record.  It was so lousy this year that the city extended Paris Plage for a week, where my toes can dig into the warm sand while watching the Bateau Mouches plying up and down the Seine.

August in France was for me my days of milk and honey, as it was traditionally the month that I usually traveled to France with much excitement!  Being here , even now, brings back memories of my first days in awe and wonder of her beauty.

At that time I don’t remember ever feeling deprived of any gastronomic experiences, with the many small bistros that traditionally close, because I usually headed to the famous multi starred ones to check out a chef that had been accumulating rave reviews, which are opened year round.

Since living here, I have learned to look forward to Assumption Day, a national holiday here in France.   You will always find me patiently waiting in front of  Notre Dame to take part in the lovely procession around Ile de La Cité and Ile Saint Louis that always fills me with much joy.

Walking with many other faithful devotees of Mother Mary, reciting the rosary, is like a meditative trance that gives me much sweet peace and pleasure.  Another reminder of how blessed I feel to be living here.

Here is a quick clip of the bells at the end of the procession back in front of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame bells august 15 2014

Then of course,  exactly a week later I get to celebrate my birthday in my beloved adoptive city.  The most recent recount of my birthday can be found in the previous post.

By August the flowers in the park and on my own balcony have reached their peak  of enthralling beauty!  And last, but not least the mirabelles, those very small golden perfumed plums, from Lorraine, start to flood the marchés, that easily find their way Parc Montsouris ice cream vendorParis Horses 2014Fete de Ganesh 2014 2fete de Ganesh 2014in one of my delicious fruit tarts.

Precisely, what is missing, that makes August so special, is the hoards of Parisians who have left!  The rest of the year they crowd the sidewalks and stores that I constantly have to dodge or risk bumping into.  Then there is the  constant rattling thunder of cars, the horrible shrill of motorcycles and  tires screeching madly around the avenues everywhere.

I am so grateful that the majority of Parisians leave in scores for their annual month long vacation.  In August I have the feeling that the city belongs mostly to the tourists, and the few diehard August lovers like me!

The parks almost feel very rural with only a few folks scattered on the grounds and the ice cream vendor looking lonely, without the usual long line.

Some of Paris’s major business and residential areas look deserted , including some of the central thoroughfares.  August is the only time I feel half way comfortable to drive in the city, except for an occasional Sunday, though I still avoid like the plague, the crazy and dangerous circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

It felt really strange to venture out one day, that took me back to my old street in the 5th, then driving towards Notre Dame where I turned on the quai and drove along the Seine, before turning back at the Musee d’Orsay.   Heading south, I picked up Blvd Saint Germain des Prés  back towards the fifth,  turned towards the Pantheon then back  to Blvd Saint Michel, along side  Jardin Luxembourg till I reached the 14th, all done without being tied in a bundle of nerves!

Here is a small portion of it, mostly on Saint Germain, narrated in a playful manner by my daughter, while I was driving, still very defensively.

Summer driving in Paris 2014

Sure a lot of the shops and restaurants are closed, but so what?   I much prefer eating my own delicious meals overlooking my abundance of colourful flowers seemingly suspended above the rooftops against the blue sky( which hasn’t been too blue recently).

Today is September the first and I could tell by this weekend, that the deluge of Parisians have returned to roost for la rentree!  Just by the noise level alone, I knew before I even ventured back out into the streets!

I woke up Saturday to a band playing across the street to promote a new organic store that had just opened, and when I stepped out there where two horses in front of an old buggy munching away on hay, oblivious to the traffic and folks stopping by to gaze and take photos to this rather unusual sight.

Saturday the lines in stores had already lengthen by several meters.  The sidewalks were once again flooded with people and the parks had me dodging the little kiddies on their scooters whizzing by at breakneck speed.

Worst was the mob of people, that I got caught in and had me worried about getting tramped on, at the annual Fete de Ganesh.   Held in the 18 arrondissement,  I love going to the parade for the brightly coloured floats,  Indian music, flashy costumes and saris in all the colours of the rainbow, and sights of smashed coconuts everywhere, which I wrote about: http://www.cherrychapman.com/2012/09/03/smashing-cocon…or-lord-ganesh/

The Hindi community here are so very generous with freely handing out the wonderful and unusual beverages with packages of beautifully seasoned rice and this year spicy chickpeas.

I was able to obtain another blessing this year of having my forehead dabbed with red. I was wondering why folks were staring at me on my way  home on the metro, as it wasn’t till I looked in the mirror did I realise I looked like I had suffered a bad injury!

Well, the city is back in full, and as loud and busy as ever!  September has really neat things about it too, that I am sure to write about.  Hopefully there will be another August and birthday to enjoy next year!


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My Special Birthday Celebration Weekend

Théâtre Palais Royal Birthday  2014My birthday celebration has been a whirlwind celebration of three straight days full of merriment, spectacular sights, good food, laughter and even wonderful omens!  Birthdays should always be celebrated in a big way, with as much flare, style and adventure as you can put together.          

Friday my official birth day, started out with a surprise breakfast of croissants, praline croissants and brioche from my favourite baker brought in by my daughter who announced she had taken the day off Château Maintenon lake and aquaducfrom work. After finishing off every delicious crumb of breakfast pastries, we set out for the country, heading south towards Maintenon, which is slightly north of Chartres.

Chateau Maintenon was the estate of Louis XIV’s favourite mistress, Madame Maintenon, who became his hidden queen. I had always been fascinated by her character, who had a cinderella life, from being born in misery to ending up becoming the beloved queen of a king of France.

Her rags to riches story is worthy of a detailed post in the future. The château and grounds were magnificent of course and sweet energy seem exuded everywhere, probably a reflection of her own kind spirit.

I cornered one of the Château Maintenon Birthdau 2014gardeners, busy pruning the many roses, that are planted each year. This year’s rose was Le Notre in honour of the famous landscaper who designed the garden here and Versailles, along with several other châteaux in Château Maintenon 2014France.

Delicately pink and profoundly perfumed, I asked for a cutting, which he only could do on the sly. Fortunately , I had tucked a compressed sac in my purse, ,which he kindly filled with the cuttings that I intend to root.  I had successfully rooted a brugmansia(angel trumpet) from another château in the Loire.

On the way back home, we stopped at a farm ‘cuillette’, which allows you to pick fruits, vegetables and flowers.  First stop was the raspberries bushes, which was a formidable task, as they were well picked over, leaving a few hidden under leaves for picking.

After an hour of hunting raspberries, there wasn’t much times for much else.  After fermecutting  crimson and green lettuces, and pulling up some red beets, we headed home, escaping the worst of returning vacationers.

Getting back to late to shop for  my original menu of coquilles Saint Jacque(scallops), I had to  improvise with what I had.  While enjoying my coup de champagne, I proceeded to produce a caramelised tarte tatin of tomatoes, along with the fresh picked salads and the succulent raspberries made for splendid dinner.

While sipping the last of my wine, I caught a double rainbow gracing the sky looking out over my balcony!  Delighted to have such a wonderful and beautiful omen for my birthday!Birthday 2014 L'Oiseau BlancL'Oiseau Blanc 2014 terrasseL'Oiseau Blanc avion

Saturday morning the sun played hide and seek, but cleared to a blue sky by the time we arrived at the Hotel Peninsula roof top terrace restaurant L’Oiseau Blanc, where I had made reservations a few weeks before.

Paris’s newest glamorous palace had just opened the first of August.  Not surprising, the hotel was sumptuous and lavishly decorated throughout with massive chandeliers.

I, like other gastronomes, was looking forward to trying out the new young chef Sidney Redel.

Hotel Peninsula

The restaurant was named to commemorate the airplane L’Oiseau Blanc,  that unsuccessfully attempted the first transatlantic flight in 1927 between Paris and New York.

The view is stunning with a 360 degree visual tour over tout Paris,  with the near by Tour Eiffel  most prominent.  The warm sun, with a steady breeze made for a perfect day to be in such splendour.

Though my first course of  creamed mussels marinières with spinach and   purple and yellow cauliflower in a superb fumet was initially exciting, the main course fell flat and uninspired.

The perfectly grilled fish, a lieu jaune ,was garnished with smothered baby girolles and cherry tomatoes, while good, was served with white beans in a under seasonedL'Oiseau Blanc Birthday 2014L'Oiseau Blanc dessert with bee fish fumet, that left me disappointed and questioning the rationale of the whole dish.

The desert was a lovely pain perdu , accompanied by apricot puree, and vanilla and orange flower ice cream.  The combination of flavours was wonderful but the best of all was sharing it a little bee, seen in the photo.

I was graced also with a cute ladybug who briefly landed on my forehead as if to wish me a happy birthday.  I love bees and ladybugs and always consider them  good omens!

Perhaps the chef, who was a protégé of Pierre Gagnaire, one of my favourite chefs,  hasn’t been given full reign to showcase his creativity or it just wasn’t a good day.

Though I could have spent the whole afternoon lounging in the comfortable chairs soaking up the sun, sipping the excellent Chablis domaine Christophe, the clouds started to move in and I found myself wishing that my talented chef son Andre could have been at the kitchen’s helm for my birthday lunch!

Getting home around 4pm, allowed for a little rest before getting ready for the evening fun ahead, guaranteed to plunge me into the heart of old gai Paris.  Another one of my birthday surprises was a musical comedy playing at one of Paris’s loveliest old theaters.Théâtre Palais Royal Interior 2Theatre Palais Royal SatuesThéâtre Palai Royal 2014

Le Théâtre du Palais Royal was built in 1784 at the norther tip of Palais Royal next to one of Paris ‘s oldest restaurants Le Grand Vefour.  The multi tiered lavish baroque interior, decorated in lush red velvet amongst ornate light fixtures and voluptuous statues had an intimate feel that allowed you to have a near presence to the stage.

Sitting in our own private lodge, seen above, near the stage, I felt like I was in another era that flourished during Molière’s time.  The play, Les Fiancés du Loches, written in 1888, had  me laughing throughout with the farcical slapstick comedy of songs and dances along with costumes from that époque and real musicians in the background.

The applause and was so thunderously consistent at the end, that the curtain kept going up and down over 8 times, keeping the actors on stage well overtime!  We lingered after the crowd left taking photographs seen of this very special theatre that I had never been to before.

The exterior architecture of the pretty swirled layered fire escapes was a reminder that the previous Palais Royale Theatre was completely destroyed by fire, and this reconstruction certainly must have assured patrons that followed of their safety. Walking around that area at night had its own charm and allure with the cute old fashioned street lanterns here and there glowed in the narrow cobblestone streets.Théâtre_du_Palais-Royal_04

Paris takes on another energy at night, one of frivolity and romantic mystique cast by dancing shadows at every corner, that makes you want to indulge way past midnight.
Birthday Dinner 2014
Birthday Dinner 2014 FAux Filet Henri IVDouble Rainbow Birthday 2014

Sunday was for birthday pastry making, which is a long tradition of mine.   Even though I live in a city where some of the most dazzling Birthday Dacquoise 2014and dreamiest cakes and pastry are created, I still prefer making my own.

After Sunday Mass, I quickly set out to shop for my birthday dinner since all that celebrating had prevented me doing it before.  I had to be quick to get all that I needed before they close around 1:30pm.     As usual, my search of exactly what I needed necessitated marathon walking around,  made more difficult as the majority of butchers and shops were still shuttered for august vacation.

After a quick lunch, I tackled the intricate process of making the dacquoise layers for the cake.   They take forever to dry to a perfect crunchiness in the low oven temperature needed to preserve the creamy whiteness and texture.

The lemon curd needed for the lemon mousse is now a breeze for me to make, since I often make it for various other desserts and pastries.  Waiting for it to cool on the balcony afforded a little time to rest!

Getting the layers of crisp meringue off the sheet, without breaking in two can be a challenge, but using baking parchment makes it easier.  It was close to 7pm by the time I folded in the lemon curd mascarpone mixture into the whipped cream and was finally able to assemble my lemon dacquoise.

It was champagne time again and I quickly proceeded to slice and sear the foie gras garnished with a tapped pear along with figs, orange and apricots, drizzled with a port wine sauce seen in the photos. I had intended on doing tornadoes Henri IV, but with the butcher being out of filets, I had to improvise with a faux filet(loin).

The artichokes bottoms were tiny with leaves attached, looking like abstract flowers.   Filed with my delicious sauce béarnaise made with fresh tarragon from my balcony alongside the sliced grilled beef, the improvisation was a stunning success in all aspects!

La piece de resistance provided a succulent ending to a perfect birthday dinner.  I love the contrast of the crisp crunchy texture of the sweet dacquoise against the soft silky lemon mousse, served with raspberries and or strawberries.

It was certainly worth all the effort as a sumptuous finale to my birthday celebration.  Birthdays are for celebrating more that just one day, as each of us deserves to have that special recognition of our births, where too often they are overlooked in a blink.

Birthdays also remind us that life needs to be celebrated more often for any reason you choose!  It is up to us to bring as much joy, adventure and good times into our lives, throughout the year!

The whole weekend was all that I could have dreamed of, except for one thing. Having my son and grandchildren would have been even more love and cherries on top of the whipped cream cake!

Secrets Are For Sharing

Have you ever thought that if people knew something about you,  that you have kept secret for many years, they would think less of you, or worst even abandon you?

Could you believe that the very people you are hiding something from, have their own secrets that they too would perhaps like to share?

Secrets are for sharing, for keeping them within only serves to harm and isolate you from others.  Untold secrets can fester like purulent pus of some ongoing infection requiring building thick fortress like walls to contain within that you are most fearful of revealing.

Life is tough to live for all of us. I would venture to say that almost every human being on earth has a hurt, fear or even a past, that is hidden within.   More than likely, you would never know.

It is a universal truth that most human beings walk around with doubts, fears, sadness, abuse, hopelessness and I could go on. Masks are made for masking and most people do this very well indeed.  The smile you see may cover up a deep sorrow.

The crystalline confidence exuding from someone in power may be as false as his persona.   I remember a three star general, who suffered from an awful self-esteem and despite his apparent career achievements and multiple stripes, was tormented by severe self doubts.

We have to keep face because we think, however erroneously, that everyone else has it all together.  And that my dears, is just a plain lie.  No one goes around being really totally honest about how they feel.

I realise to a certain extent, that this may be culturally oriented.  The Asians are notorious for being extremely opaque.  Likewise, the French in general, are much less open than Americans to sharing, unless you are within their circle of confidents.

I think it is perfectly ok to let people know you are worried and not up to par.   When we deprive others of letting them know how we feel, we also deprive ourselves of being listened to and comforted.

Did you ever think that just maybe they have had the same feelings too?   Did it ever occur to you that maybe they would like to tell you how they really feel?

I am not against social decorum, but a little authenticity would be refreshing. I am not calling for broadcasting how miserable you are to each and all.

There are people in your circle that care about you and I am sure you know who they are. There are plenty of ways to let people know you don’t feel good.

Nothing wrong with saying “well, I am not great”.   Or what about “It could be better”.  Those who care will stop and ask what’s up.

There is nothing wrong either asking for a hug.  Perhaps only in America though!  Although the French can certainly offer comfort in their on way, I have found that they don’t know what to do with a hug or hugging!

Since  I have a very hard time denying that I  am worried or not feeling food, I have in the past asked for hugs from friends and colleagues.    Actually people enjoy being asked  because it makes them feel significant that you turned to them.  The bottom line is most folks like to be of help.

Psychotherapy and or self-help groups are wonderful in providing an opportunity to meet other people who are suffering from the same hurts and pain as you.  You realise that you are not alone, and can identify with the similarities that you have already experienced.

I would like to add my belief that therapists too, need to be as authentic as they hope their patients will be.  Therapists do not live in ivory towers devoid of real human stress, sorrows and strife.  My time will always belong 100% to my patients, not me, but I can certainly briefly be real about my mood, if asked, and go on with their therapy.

I remember well a time when a certain patient  triggered a strong grief response in me.  After I said goodbye to my her, I found myself very tearful and openly cried again over the death of my cousin that occurred when I was only 12 years old.

Fortunately it was lunch time, but because I couldn’t hide my red and swollen eyes by my next session, I ended up having to reveal the truth.  My brief disclosure precipitated an incredible floodgate for my patient’s own buried grief, which turned out to be an extremely productive catharsis for her.

Being human and suffering in a universal reality that we all share.  Beware of isolating yourself, thinking that you are the only one to have this sorrow, doubt or fear.

Your boss, your teacher, your guru, your best friend, and yes, even therapist have all suffered.  You are never alone with your pain, unless you choose to believe your suffering is incomprehensible to others.

There are some secrets that disturb, torment and fester, either consciously or buried that are better off being shared initially with a professional therapist.    The deepest and the most hurtful of all is to have been sexually molested, but never revealed.

Due to very nature of this type of abuse, there are feelings of anger and shame,  which can lie dormant in the recesses of the psyche.    All  sexual abused patients harbor this.

At times even awareness of abuse can be locked away in their unconscious and will surface many years later.  Those that are aware often suffer is silence until they have the courage to confide their pain.

I dedicated an entire post on this,  called Sexual Abuse; The Hidden Pain And Suffering:  http://www.cherrychapman.com/2014/02/03/sexual-abuse-t…-and-suffering/ ‎

Aside from other deeply disturbing events, such as above, none of us are that unique in our humanity.   We are all open to the same human difficulties and pitfalls that life entails.

The bottom line, is when you share a fear, doubt or pain with another person, you are being authentically real and human.  You are also giving them an opportunity to share their own hidden selves or secrets with you!

I remember when I  was invited to a picnic in the Bois de Boulogne, a sprawling huge forested area cupping the western edge of Paris.  Two invitees, I had never met and the others only once before.  I chose to share my concern and worry about a family matter, and within minutes another started to open up about their own family problems.

Have you ever sat next to a total stranger on a flight and before you knew it,  found yourself revealing much more than you ordinarily do?  I know this has happened to me several times, and each time, this has led to a mutual outpouring of feelings.

These personal vignettes once again validates my universal conviction that only when we have the courage to reveal our true selves, do we invite our fellow human voyagers in this life to share theirs.

Our boundaries become porous when we allow ourselves to share our own secrets, vulnerabilities and true feelings.     And being seen, with all of our human frailties builds bridges to the hearts of others.

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Robin Williams; Three Main Factors That Contributed To His Death

suffering-statue-with-tearsRobin Williams, who all made us laugh till we cried, has now unleashed a world of tears from those who loved him and his extraordinary ability that enabled us to escape our everyday life with laughter. How ironic that the joy and laughter he was so capable of giving to the world, he wasn’t in the end,  able to experience himself.

Many people would have a hard time believing that Robin Williams could be depressed enough that he wanted to kill himself.  Not widely known until his death, was the fact that he suffered from the deadly duo of Bipolar disorder and substance abuse.  The third contributing factor revolved around the very talent and image that brought him fame and admiration, yet nevertheless played a part in his demise.

Bipolar disorder, either type I or II is a disorder of cycling moods of mania or hypomania and very severe depressions.  For those interested, I wrote a whole post detailing the symptoms, variations, and treatment in August of 2012;   http://www.cherrychapman.com/2012/08/20/bipolar-disorder/

Bipolar depression, the great rapist, took him away with no mercy as it does many who suffer from the same, sometimes in silence. I call depression the great rapist because it literally destroys all joy and meaning of life to the extent that the will to continue living can be totally obliterated.

Depression mangles and twists your judgment and rationale and traps you in total darkness , where the light of hope is easily extinguished.  Left untreated and unmonitored the depressed person starts to be convinced that the world would better off without them.

It makes death look much more desirable that the pain of living. Depressed patients can never see an end to their suffering, and unless stringent intervention of protection and help takes place, the risk of suicide is high.

He, like up to 56% of Bipolar patients had a dual diagnosis of substance abuse. Most bipolar patients, who are not on medication, or poorly controlled, rather enjoy the hypomanic phases, but it is the severe suffering of the depressive periods that leads some to self medicate with drugs and alcohol.  Unfortunately Robin Williams had polysubstance abuse;  cocaine, ecstasy, and alcohol.

Bipolar disorder can be deadly enough, but when the patient is using drugs, it makes everything worse.  The mood variations can be intensified, resulting in deeper depressive episodes and the cycling can become more rapid.

Let me explain why.  First of all the neurons(nerve cells) in bipolar patients are already given to being unstable with varying fluctuations of neurotransmitters, which causes the variations of mood.

Cocaine is one of the most powerful stimulators of neurotransmitters, literally flooding the brain with loads of them, especially dopamine which produces euphoria for a brief time.

The dopamine levels will then fall, resulting in a period or severe irritability and depression; in some ways mimicking the bipolar disease process neurophysiologically.

In chronic abusers of cocaine, speed and ecstasy, these chemically induced intense mood variations will harm the neurons, by reducing receptors on the cell.  When this happens, the abusers will need higher levels of the drugs to induce euphoria, and the vicious cycle ends up further damaging the nerve cells, making depressive periods much more severe with increased cycling.

The third contributing factor to his suicide, was his fame and world-wide image of him being the funny guy, always ready to break out joking.  This burden became the last frontier that Robin Williams was never able to escape.

I have often heard that comedians can be very lonely and agonisingly sad within.  I could easily conjecture that they use their gift of comedy as a compensation and defense against  their own lack of joy. Perhaps they hope their funny persona that the world identifies with them, will indeed become their true self.

But what happens when that persona starts to break? When the walls become thin and begin to crumble?  When the effort to perform is no longer there? Where does the wittiest man on earth go to hide his pain?

I can only imagine the pressure he must have felt to always be “funny”.  We know he was a magnificent actor, but still when you are clinically depressed, your energy to do anything literally ceases, and yet he still had to be the comedian, if caught off-guard in public.

The show must go, probably was so instilled in his psyche, that he couldn’t let his fans down when was not in shape to perform.   I am sure it took every molecule of sheer psychic strength to walk on stage and act ,when all he wanted to do was cry, but couldn’t.

I imagine he had frozen tears too, based on his relationship history, but his had to be buried deeper than most, as I doubt he would never had felt comfortable revealing his immense despair.   Who would want to believe that Robin Williams was often in the darkness of deep depression?

I wonder if he sometimes thought that if the world knew the way he truly felt when depressed, they would be in total disbelief.    Even worse,  knowledge of his mental illness and addictions might have been a concern of tarnishing his image.

Fame must lonely at the top, when the adoring world only holds a certain impression of what they perceive you to be.  He apparently did casually mention his depression and addiction at times,  but never really elaborated.

In an interview on NPR, in 2006 he admitted he suffered from periods of highs and sadness but denied that he had been diagnosed with clinical depression, and in general  minimised the gravity of it all by his humour.  He did say jokingly that he had taken antidepressants and medicine he called his “speed bumps”, which certainly would be in reference to mood stabilizers, used in treating Bipolar disorder.

He was such a brilliantly talented actor who knew his comic routines so well he could easily mask his pain if needed and apparently in his world he felt compelled to do so.

Suffering in silence, he unwittingly deprived himself of certainly having the support and empathy from millions who loved him.  This fact alone kept him isolated with his pain, that if shared, would have released some of the intensity and the constant pressure to hide.

We would have understood, and had he openly shared with the world, not only could he have perhaps saved others, but himself as well.

Addendum:  A recent post I wrote on suicide as well.  http://www.cherrychapman.com/2014/03/10/suicide-is-never-the-answer/

Scandalous Glory Seekers Risk Death Of Others on Mont Blanc

Mont BlancMont_Blanc_photo_aerienneRefuge-du-GouterFor ages Mont Blanc was officially called “les montagnes maudit”(cursed mountains) where one of the major summits, Mont Maudit retains that name. Lately the mayor of Saint Gervais Les Bains,  the administrative commune of Mont Blanc, Jean Marc Peillex,  has been feeling cursed himself in dealing with all the crazies on the slopes.

With the last month’s scandalous antics of two outrageous fathers bringing their kids on the mountain, he has thrown his arms up in disgust, saying the situation has become “intolerable”.  “Sick and tired” of having to risk the lives of the rescue team in trying to prevent as many deaths as possible on deadly Mont Blanc.

These snow covered peaks and slopes resembling immense jagged mountains, looking like they were spread with pure white icing are defyingly beautiful jutting up against a clear blue sky.  Pristine and peaceful from afar, they are a magnet, attracting climbers and skiers who envision conquering the tallest mountain in Europe.

Mont Blanc is also considered the deadliest of mountains, due to the tragic fact that approximately 40 to 50  people a year die throughout the year climbing  or skiing her immense slopes.  Why?

Some of the most difficult slopes to climb?  Most dangerous unstable weather patterns?  Most avalanche prone?  Perhaps, all three, but additionally because Mont Blanc seems to attract hordes of inexperienced climbers and glory seekers, who have absolutely no business being there in the first place.

M. Peillex has seen his share of weirdos, but the last few weeks, have taken the cake! He has long angrily denounced the incredible stupidity of those who venture out thinking that Mont Blanc is like a long rigorous hike, but now shakes his head in disbelief with recent irresponsible abusive “fathers” caught trailing along young children up these icy slippery slopes.

“Mont Blanc is not an amusement park” is his latest  infuriated warning. Patrick Sweeney, an American father was caught in an avalanche in July , with his two children, a son aged 9 and daughter aged 11, all of whom miraculously survived.

Self described as an “adrenalin junkie”,  this very reckless man wanted to set a world record in having his children be the youngest ever to reach the top of Mont Blanc, which in my mind constitutes child abuse!  He reportedly wanted to sensationalize and promulgate his careless moment of glory by selling films of his ascent.

M Peillex filed child endangerment charges against him, noting that a Ukrainian fell 200 meters to his death recently in the same area.   He went on to explain that in France he would risk having his children removed from his care, and that in filing the charges was in hopes of keeping him from returning.

Last week, mountain police/patrol caught an Austrian father at 3200 meters, heading up with his five year old son towards the summit!  Apparently he was argumentative about his rights to take his son up, and was very reluctant to comply with turning back.  Last spring a father was fortunately prevented in hiking up with a toddler on his back.

Besides the sheer lack of physical endurance, children under the age of 16 are much more vulnerable to high altitude sickness and oxygen deprivation on such immense heights.  Additionally, temperatures at that altitude can easily be minus 20 centigrade with winds up to 150 kl/per hour.

Mont Blanc is notorious for sudden changes in weather patterns that can obliterate blue skies with blizzards that can reduce vision down to only meter in front of you.  Risk of avalanche warnings are posted each day for various areas, but they are also unpredictable and are often caused by other climbers or skiers.

Besides avalanches, the risks and dangers of falling pose tremendous threats of sudden death.  The slopes are really glaciers made of solid ice that moves creating multitudes of crevasses, that might be covered with fresh snow and ice. Though they appear solid, they can often give way under one’s weight.

Along with ice pics, to enable secure footing, hiking up these glaciers require “grampons”, which are traction devices of spikes that attach to the shoe. They require getting use to, which is a problem as few climbers outside of Europe employ them, especially not children!

In addition to glory seeking fathers, the mayor is constantly confronted with rescuing weekend “alpinists” who have had little or no experience climbing in the alps, but are convinced that it is just a matter of will and might.

Mont Blanc can be a death trap in waiting for novices, as even experienced long time alpinists or guides often lose their lives.  Yet the paths are often crowded with hundreds of naive want to be climbers, who have taken a few guided lessons to conquer Mont Blanc, who has no mercy for the uninitiated.

Recently a Polish man, who having made it up to a refuge, decided he was “too tired” to descend. He called the mountain patrol requesting that he be airlifted down, and when refused, called a private helicopter service, which had to turn him down too, because only the mayor can authorised helicopters landings and only in case of needed emergency rescues.

Once again M. Peillex, at his wit’s end, had to confront this lazy man that “there is no taxi service off Mont Blanc”.  If in imminent danger, the patrol will do all that they can to save lives, which few consider or even appreciate is free of charge on the French side.

On the Italian side, they reserve the right to charge recovery fees, around 3,200 euros, if felt the rescue was prompted by lack of adherence to safety precautions.  The mayor of Saint Gervais les Bains would like to  do the same, feeling he ends up getting the bulk of incompetent climbers and skiers.

The above irresponsible fathers are pure and simple dangerous narcissists, who would even consider putting the lives of their children at risk, for the glory of saying they “did” Mont Blanc!  Along with the  Polish climber and many other thrill seekers, they blatantly exhibit a sense of entitlement, another narcissistic trait,  in not considering the danger involved in rescuing them.

They are generally adrenaline junkies, who are always on the pursuit of any challenges where they can get their “fix”.  Dangerous mix not only for other serious experienced climbers meeting them on narrow paths, but for the brave rescuers, who risk their own lives in trying to save these daredevils.

As I described in a post published on Mar 12, 2013, Mont Blanc is a deadly magnet for thrill seekers, who crave adrenaline rushes.  That along with the concurrently produced feel good neurotransmitter,  dopamine, creates an addictive like process, much like cocaine and speed.

Many fail to make reservations in the already overcrowded refuges, seen in photo, putting strain on available supplies and personnel, who for humanitarian reasons, would not refuse them shelter.  Some even have the audacity to not pay their bills, such as the  man too tired to climb down.

The above current shenanigans that Monsieur Peillex has had to put up with,  might be the last straw.  His thinking that warning all climbers that they may be charged in getting them off Mont Blanc, would definitely cut down on these very expensive and dangerous rescues .  What do you think?

 Addendum:  It has only been two days since I published this post, but today six climbers perished on Mont Blanc, some found in a crevasse.  It is not know if an avalanche was involved or that their cords broke.  They all had some experience and were taking a training course to perfectionate their skills.

The Mythic Orient Express, A Peak From The Past

Orient Express Dining Car 2Orient Express China and carafesOrient Express Bar 1Orient Express Lalique CrystalOrient Express Lalique FigurinesOrient Express Lalique Glass windowThere was a time when traveling could be as delightful and enjoyable, and something that you looked forward to, as much as your destination. The mythic Orient Express rail service provided such a glorious experience traveling to exotic faraway places in luxurious comfort and elegance, never before possible.

Can you imagine non stop rail service between Paris and Baghdad, with connections to Teheran and even south to Jerusalem, then on to Cairo?  The Orient Express took voyagers to places and through countries never before opened to tourism, that currently are not on the tourist trail due to wars, conflicts and terrorism.

It has been immortalized in books and films, such as Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and the James Bond film, From Russia with Love.  Kings, queens, diplomats and the rich and famous all loved traveling on it, knowing that they would have the utmost lavishness in the sumptuous surroundings and the renown cuisine.

Elegant dress was de rigueur for dinner, where champagne and cognac flowed freely on tables graced with special china and silver carafes.  Piano music could be heard from the bar car, while savouring multi course gourmet dishes prepared by a real chef, amongst the splendour of Lalique crystal figurines and lights.

It was a time from the past when traveling correlated with splendour and refinement.  There was time to take in not only the beautiful countryside passing by, but being loss in the moment or being romantically immersed in Orient Express Piano BarOrient Express Folding Sinkorient Express RoutesOrient Express Schedule PosterOrient Express Serving StationOrinet Express Posterwhomever accompanied you.

Passion and romance certainly filled her rooms and corridors, as many chose the Orient Express for their honeymoon, such as Agatha Christie for her second marriage to an archeologist doing digs in Iraq.

The Orient Express is credited with creating the first window orient Express travel brochureOrient Express CarOrient Express FounderOrient Express Insignaorient Express LocomotiveOrient Expressof globalization  between Europe and the Middle East, where ideas, science, and industrialization could be exchanged.

Last week I visited an exhibit of this magnificent train at the Musée des Mondes Arabe that was put on in collaboration with the French rail service SNCF. It was even more meaningful for me, as I recently returned from Istanbul, where I photographed the terminal Orient Express restaurant at Sirkeci station that remains open.

It all started with a banker’s son, Georges Nagelmacker, who was born in Liege, Belgium in 1845.  Because of a thwarted romance, his family encouraged him to vacation in America in 1867 in hopes he could forget his heartbreak.

It was there that George became impressed with Pullman rail cars and he began to envision creating a luxurious rail service in Europe.  Upon his return  , he established the Compagnie International des Wagons-Lits.

His first train left Paris Gare de L’Est station on June 5, 1883 to Vienna. By 1889 the Orient Express offered non stop rail service to Istanbul.

It left Paris at 6:25 pm on Sundays and Wednesdays and only two nights later arrived at the Sirkeci Terminal in Constantinople(now Istanbul) at 4 pm.  This became their established northern route that stopped in Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest, and Constantinople.

When the Simplon tunnel was completed through the alps connecting Switzerland to Italy, they inaugurated a southern route, known as the Simplon Orient Express that left Paris Gare de Lyon, heading towards Lausanne, Milan, Vienna, Belgrade, Sophia, and Constantinople.

By 1930, the third divisional route, called the Arlberg Orient Express running through Zürich and Innsbruck to Budapest allowed passengers to continue southwards towards Greece, stopping in Thessalonike and terminating in Athens.

During each World War I and World War II, rail service was interrupted for a few years. By 1962 the original Orient Express cars stopped running except for the Simplon Orient Express.

It eventually morphed into a more plebeian service between Paris and Istanbul till 1977.  A train running under the same name of the Orient Express continued between Paris and Budapest  till 2001 and then was shortened to Strasbourg-Vienna until 2009.

Probably both low cost airfare and the fast TGV trains caused the demise of the Orient Express, which is a shame, because there aren’t any direct trains from Paris to Istanbul, Vienna, Budapest, nor Athens.

The only version available today is the privately owned Venice Simplon Orient Express that has astrospheric prices.  Though they use restored old carriages from 1920-30, replete with all their splendour, the toilets are stilled shared and there aren’t any showers.

All rooms have those lovely and unique folding metal sinks with cold and hot water and can have communicating compartments for families.  All the seats, dining chairs and sleeping berths looked very plush and comfortable for those who today can adapt to sponge baths and toilets down the hall.

Sleeping on trains can be comfortable, but isn’t for  light sleepers, who can’t sleep through train stops and whistles.   Best enjoyed by nostalgic romantics in search of passionate thrills on the rails, which is certainly unique.

The closest I have come to being on the Orient Express was taking the train, still of that name in 1985 from Budapest back to Paris with my children.  I have fond memories of eating a wonderfully prepared chicken paprikas in the dining car with real linen, flowers, glassware and good Egri Bikavar wine.

Today I continue to prefer trains, where I can see all the rolling countryside right into the center of town. With high speed trains that France and most other European countries offers, it is a quick and stress free way to travel, though not the least expensive.

Being the romantic soul that I am, I would have loved to have taken the original Orient Express back in that glamorous time when savouring and lingering in the moment was more important than just getting there.  How about you?




Seeding Peacemakers Amongst Us

Heart of PeaceNotre DameNotre Dame July 27, 2014Notre Dame July, 27, 2014 candlesOnce again the world has been shadowed by inhumane acts committed in the Ukraine, Gaza, and the ongoing atrocities in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.  I am sickened with grief and shame for the cruelty  that human beings are continuously capable of doing.

Warfare has been a repetitive cruel way of resolving disputes,  that has cursed most of man’s history on earth.  You think human societies would have learned a few things,  after all the wars that have plagued mankind, especially the last two great wars and the atrocious monstrosities of the holocaust.

Sadly no, hate and prejudice remain, and it seems we have only learned to make bigger and more destructive weapons, that require each country to invest huge amounts of money in protecting themselves.  Even more frightening is that these latest weapons of mass destruction have filtered into the hands of terrorists masquerading as rebellious defenders of geographical borders or religious ideologies.

I weep for all the mothers and fathers who have lost their sons and daughters in the name of war, conflicts,  disputes, and everyday violence. War begets war, bloodshed begets bloodshed, violence begets violence and the vicious cycle repeats itself at another time for each succeeding generation.

I can’t change the  world, but I can at least squeak my horror and outrage to whoever has the eyes to read and comprehend my words.  These past weeks has been hard to stomach for any sensitive soul who has any grain of heart felt compassion for all those who have died at the hands of those whose geopolitical and or religious ideology is more important that the lives of men, women and children.

With the 298 deaths of innocent travelers on Malaysian airline, whose bodies were scattered on the wheat fields, shot down by  pro-Russian Ukrainian separatist/terrorists, and the innocent victims on both sides of the ongoing Israeli/ Palestinian war , it has been a bloody and shame filled weeks by any account.

Of course these events have garnered our most recent attention and outrage,  but globally our planet has been simmering in one spot or another with violence for years.  The continuous human carnage in Syria, that seems endless, is now the newest training ground for young extremists Islamic jihadists, who want to spread their violent spores back to their home country.

Add to this the everyday violent crimes that occur everywhere,  especially in my country of origin, and one can easily think that there isn’t a safe place on the planet.

Masses of men  throughout the ages have demonstrated a need to dominate and conquer, regardless of the blood that is shed. Domination, aggressivity, and intolerance without any moral brakes gives way to mass destruction.

Supposedly, it wasn’t always that way, as there is record of some societies that lived in peaceful harmony for many years, such as the Catalhoyuk and the Minoans, up until about 3000 BC.  Catalhoyuk lies on the Anatolian plains, now modern day Turkey and the Minoans on the island of Crete in Greece.

Perhaps we can learn from these societies, where there was more equality in social classes and between the sexes.  The primarily feminine traits of nurture, compassion and empathy were more honoured than traditional male ones of dominate and conquer  by aggression.

Adding fuel to the explosive mentality of brutal savagery is the desensitization of violence and aggression in everyday life.  Look at our media rife with hugely popular bloody scenarios of warfare and seek and destroy games.

Adolescent males are often obsessed with them, and unfortunately those with sociopathic tendencies will act those out in real life, causing mass destruction of lives. Killing your target, by just a click on a screen can be quickly translated to pulling a trigger or pushing a button to release missiles.

Though recent research demonstrates sociopathic tendencies can be inherited, they can also be thwarted  or minimised with good parenting.   Tragically, there are a lot of families that are breeding grounds of violence through abuse and neglect.

None of us has the power to change the world, but we can look into our own hearts. If collectively our hearts are a microcosm of our world, then there is a great deal of cleansing to do to achieve a more peaceful coexistence.

Technology has increasingly shrunk our planet, through travel and the ability to instantaneously dialogue all over the world.  We all have the chance to seed peacemakers across the globe with our words and everyday behaviour.

Strive to be a model of love and peace within your own family. Start now by cleansing your own heart of prejudice, anger, bitterness, and the need for revenge.  Practice tolerance by listening rather than drowning out others with your own opinion.

Strive to resolve conflicts by understanding the others point of view through open dialogue, rather than allowing your anger to wound others with sharp hurtful words that you can never take back.

Teach non violence to your children through not just words, but using your own behavior as an example. Talk to them about the value of kindness towards others and let them be a witness to your own kind acts.

Nurture compassion and empathy with your little ones, showing them your own in how you relate to them, animals and others.  Teach tolerance, respect and understanding of others culture and religious beliefs.

If hate and prejudice can be generational, so can breeding love, tolerance, understanding and non violence.  We reap collectively what we sow in our own families and  society.

Despite the harsh reality, I do know there is goodness of men and women that have walked before us and are in our presence now.  We can’t all have the voice of Saint Francis, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, nor the Dalai Lama, but we can integrate their teachings in our everyday lives, and share within our families and communities at large.

Last night, I attended a demonstration in front of Notre Dame, for the Christians persecuted in some areas of the middle east, the majority who have had to flee their homeland to escape persecution and death.

Following, was a Mass said for those who died on the Malaysian airline and for a prayerful call for peace. Notre Dame cathedral supposedly can hold around 6,000 people and the aisles were crammed with those standing like myself.

I thought about all the prayers and cries for peace that has resounded around those massive ancient stone pillars and walls  since the end of the 12 th century.  The incense slowly permeating the air enveloped me with an inner stillness and calm.

I lingered by the altar till the lights dimmed and savoured the quietness that I love as this magnificent church empties of her faithful.  Many candles were flickering in the deepening dark, giving off a halo of hope that carried me home.








Saint Marie Magdalene and La Sainte Baume; A Very Mysterious Place Indeed

Relic Saint Marie MagdaleneProcession Marie MagdaleneGrotto Marie MagdaleneGrotto Marie Magdalene StatueGrotto Marie Magdalene InteriorHostellerie belowOratoire Hotellerie Sainte BaumeBasilica Saint Maximin 2Tomorrow many will gather in Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume in southern France, to honor Mary Magdalene, as they have for ages.  I wish I could be there again, as I find my heart heavy over all the deaths and violence of last week.  Not in much of a mood to write, I am reposting this, as I seek a peaceful haven from a world I can’t comprehend.

For me, July the 22 nd has been a special day for a long time, because it is the feast day of my favourite saint, Mary Magdalene.

Those of you who know me and who have been faithful readers of this blog,  probably already know about my devotion to this saint, as I have written about her previously in a post last September, 2012.

La Sainte Baume has been like a magnet that continuously keeps drawing me back to her mysterious wild beauty and sanctity.

My most recent photos were taken in May, 2013, except for the torch lit procession, which I participated in several years ago. The procession on the night before, 21 st of July, takes place in Saint Maximin encircling the Basilica , where the her relic (skull) is displayed.

I first discovered Saint Maximin La Saint Baume back in the early 90′s. I was fascinated by the rich tradition and reverence for Mary Magdalen throughout Provence, but especially in this somewhat mysterious area. And yes, this was well before Dan Brown’s writings about her, so he had absolutely nothing to do with my own beliefs and convictions.

Provencal legend has it that Mary Magdalene, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, left the holy land in a boat with several other people, who were close to Jesus. Accompanying her was her brother Lazarus, sister Martha, Joseph of Arimathea, her helper Sarah and several others.

The boat eventually landed at what is now known as Saintes Maries de la Mer, in the swampy part of France known as the Camargue, southwest of Marseille. On may 24, and 25, there is an annual procession and celebration there, that reenacts their debarkation.

All were involved in the Christianization of southern France, especially Mary Magdalene. Lazarus became the first bishop of Marseille, Martha were on to Tarascon, and Joseph of Arimathea went on to found Rocamadour.

After many years of her spreading the teachings and gospel of Christ, Mary Magdalene reportedly retreated to the grotto of La Sainte Baume, where she spent her last remaining years. When she was weak and feeble, she was said to be lifted up and fed by angels.

Geographically, this sacred site is about 30 kilometers west of Marseille, and about 22 kilometers north of the Mediterranean sea. The tiny village of La Saint Baume is at the base of the mountain, and is basically made up of the hotellerie, that has served as a place of pilgrimage for eons; having not only attracted many of the faithful, but forty kings and 15 popes.

Getting there, at least from Marseille, will take you on narrow hairpin roads with steep drop offs, enough to give anyone a little vertigo. The scenery is beautiful and the air is incredibly perfumed with wild thyme, rosemary and lavender, as would befit the saint who is always pictured with her alabaster jar of perfume.

From afar, the landscape can appear rather arid and mountainous as it is in most of Provence. Then suddenly you feel engulfed in a thicket of cooling greenery of the Forêt Dominicale of Sainte Baume. The Dominican brothers, who have guarded the grotto forever, attribute this unusual placed forest to the spirit and energy of Mary Magdalene.

The hôtellerie has been renovated and I was glad to note that the small chapel in back, where hangs a lovely tapestry of provocative symbolism is next on the list. A few Dominican brothers and sisters mill around discreetly amongst the many pilgrims who come for retreats and visits to the grotto.

For those interested in staying there, the room rates are very reasonable.  All the times that I was there, the meals were nice, composed of an entree, main course, cheese and dessert, including really decent red  or roses wines from the area at unbeatable prices.

I love staying in the hôtellerie for the sweet energy that abounds here and so I can be next to the rather rigorous trails up to the grotto. There are two ways up, one in my mind more difficult to navigate than the other, but both will take you about 45 to 50 minutes of steep hiking upwards.

I consider myself pretty much in shape, with all the walking I do here, but I must admit I found myself at times getting breathless towards the summit, stopping briefly before the final onslaught of stairs you have to climb to get into the grotto. Both trails are beautifully covered with canopies of hickory, oak, linden and european yew, some of which all well over a thousand years old.

The Druids considered the european yew, taxus baccata,which is indigenous to the area, a tree of death and rebirth. How fitting that they abundantly line these paths walked by Mary Magdalene, the most faithful of all the apostles to Jesus. Legend also has that it is a pilgrimage for women’s fertility.

One of several fresh water streams rushing down the mountain is said to be sourced by Mary Magdalene tears. In hiking up, I could feel her heaviness of heart accentuated with each breath and pull of muscle. The ascent is meditative, inviting us to bring forth our own tears and pain for deliverance.

As in our spiritual ascension, our awareness becomes sharper, our feelings within swirl to the surface. I found myself wondering also about all the other seekers before me who persevered up this same path with faith.

The grotto, finally reached with much gratefulness, welcomes us in her dim humid coolness. Occasion drips of water seeping out of the walls of the cave breaks the silent contemplation. Votive candles everywhere flicker in the darkness, their flames beckoning hope and prayerful intercession.

The descent(opposite to what I took to ascend) was in some ways more difficult to navigate than the ascent. I passed others already exhausted, trying to climb this wildly savage trail that was difficult to decipher which turn to take next, perhaps mimicking life. Back at the Hotellerie, one feels a quiet sense of triumph and relief from the rigors of the climb.

Mary Magdalene leaves behind a legacy of faithfulness, courage and utmost love and devotion. In a time when women were viewed with little merits of leadership, except from Jesus, who was the world’s first feminist, Mary left her country of origin for unchartered waters to preach the good news of her beloved rabbi Jesus.

Not surprisingly, She was the last to leave the crucifixion of Christ and the first to discover his resurrection. She invoked the jealously of the other apostles, especially Peter, who eventually usurped her power and mission to Christianise lands beyond.

Perhaps through historical analysis of treasures, not yet discovered, or through validation of what has been uncovered, can the truth of her relevant significance be redeemed. Though the early church fathers accorded her as being the Apostola Apostolorum, or the apostle’s apostle, the Gospel of Mary was never canonically recognised.

As in all things in the universe ,there is a time and season . Truths can only be revealed when people, as Jesus prophetically claimed have the ears to hear , the eyes to see and the hearts to understand.

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Bastille Day Celebration, Another Perspective

feu-artifice-paris-tour-eiffelThe French national holiday was yesterday, and as usual I had mixed feelings about the “celebration”.    This all stems from my own perspective and some very strong visceral feelings I have had about the origin of the whole historical event.

The first and last time I visited the Conciergerie, a former prison, where a lot of the royals were kept before being guillotined, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with too much grief and tears as I approached the room of Marie Antoinette and quickly had to get away. The same repulsion occurs if I try to visit the array of items from the royal family at the Musée July 14 2014Carnavalet.

The Fête Nationale  started as a commemoration of the storming of the Bastille on July the 14th 1789.   Years ago, the holiday was bizarrely held on August the 15th, the immensely important Catholic celebration of the Assumption of Mary, until 1880 at which time is was changed to July 14th.

The Bastille was a fortress/prison in Paris, which was notorious for imprisoning those who had fallen out of favour with the king.  This event serves as a beginning of the French Revolution, which eventually did away with the French royalty.July 14 2014 Tuileries

This uprising was brought on by the great disparity of social classes, that lead to growing resentment against the privileged aristocracy and religious hierarchy, and the absolute dictatorship of the monarchy.   The economy was depleted in part due to helping the Americans fight their own revolution, in addition to rising food prices, poor harvests, and in general, poverty amongst the working class.

Unfortunately the French revolution was one the bloodiest in history that cruelly pitted different social classes against one another, especially the French royal sympathisers.  The worst bloodshed, known as the Reign of Terror, took the lives of many innocent citizens, including hundreds of clergy and religious, who were guillotined without any real trials nor mercy.

It is this regicide and genocide that casts a deep tragic shadow over the event that I defile-du-14-juillethaven’t been able to reconcile.  Additionally the revolution destroyed thousands of works of art that once filled the major cathedrals and churches everywhere.

Religious hatred and intolerance fueled these scandalous ravages with fervour.  You can see many decapitated statues in the Cluny museum that once adorned Notre Dame.

From the ashes of this tremendous social, religious  and political turbulence, the Republic of France was established and has evolved over the years to a country that today proudly proclaims “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” .

The French Declaration of the Rights of Man as seen in the photo has a strong American connection.  First of all it was drafted by General Lafayette, along with the help of Thomas Jefferson, both inspired by the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

Extremely prominent is the Eye of Providence at the top of the document, which all Declaration des DroitsAmericans see every day on dollar bills and is also on the reverse side of the Great Seal of The United States.

It is a symbol of free masonry meaning the all seeing eye of God. I find it ironic that it is on a French declaration that occurred within the revolution intending to secularise France, which today maintains a strong separation of church and state; though you would never know it by all the holidays they have of Catholic significance.

As an American who is fortunate to have double nationality(American-French),  it is a nice reminder of the long-held friendship between these two countries that has weathered many disputes.

Regardless of perspectives, the French always put on a spectacular show.  The parade down the Champs Élysée seems nowadays a moment to show off various military divisions, the military vehicles, tanks and of course aircraft that zoom overhead in formation.

Wanting to avoid the crowds on the Champs Élysée, I had all good intentions of Cherry july 14 2014catching the air show on the lawn of the Tuileries next to the Louvre, but arrived too late to catch any big aircraft, having to settle for the helicopters. Oh well, the scenery is Port Royal CasernPort Royal Casern 2july 14 2014 Port RoyalLegionnairesBar Port Royalalways enjoyable from that area at any time.

The infamous and still mysterious Foreign Legion  always parades and even gave a concert in front of Opera Garnier.   In several places one could get to meet the various soldiers and be introduced to their vehicles.

At night the huge open air concert on the Champs du Mars in front of the Eiffel tower, where the first Bastille celebration occurred, is wildly popular, followed with a light and firework display. This year it paid homage to the many millions killed in World War I, many on battlefields in Northern France, whose physical topography remains pocked by the war.

Likewise as popular, are the firemen’s balls, a tradition that dates back to 1937, where the first one was held in Montmartre.  Throughout Paris, the firemen, who all are trained EMTS open their fire houses for fun filled frolic and dancing till 4 am!

Last night the music was blaring in the courtyard of  the Port Royal casern and in addition to firemen, there were marines, sailors, and even some Foreign Legionnaires enjoying the drinks and girls, ever willing to be photographed.

I try to see the festivities now more as a celebration of the unity of France; of her culture, her monuments, her arts, beauty, lifestyle, people and the many glorious things this country offers.

I can love both countries.  There is good and bad on both sides of the pond, depending on your point of view and what you value in your life.  People are people, all with the same basic needs and desires.  There is no utopia, other than the one you  strive to create in your own heart and lives.









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Releasing Your Broken Heart To Heal

releasing heartsYou already know the searing pain, that keeps shredding  every fibre of your heart, until you feel so broken, you really do not know how much more you can endure.  You talked about it to your friends, till you are fearful they don’t want to hear anymore.

Maybe you have thought about getting help from a therapist or signing up for weekend retreats practically guaranteed to heal a broken heart.  Yet, there you stand paralysed with grief and beaten down by the painful truth.

Despite your best efforts or none at all, the pain is still there, as raw as ever.  You thought you didn’t have any more blood to  bleed, but it is obviously still trickling out, one drop at a time.

Maybe you have read every book you could get your hands on, and googled way past midnight in search of some help.  There are loads of quick fixes out there.

You know how it goes.  Ten ways to heal a broken heart.  Fifteen sure fire ways to forget your ex.  Some may offer good practical advice to follow, but leaving it totally up to you to heal yourself is rather difficult.

After you have tried it all and somehow you still find yourself in the same pain you started with in the first place, where do your go?  Even worse, you start to wonder, why even care anymore?

Dark thoughts start to creep in such as : give up you fool!  No one cares about your pain.  After all, those “other folks” have their own pain to deal with, so just get over it !

You have already felt stupid for even getting yourself involved with him/her in the first place.  You may have heard from some righteous ones: you made your bed, so lie in it my dear, till you either  rot away or learn your lesson once and for all.

Trashing yourself with belittling words you somehow feel you deserve, are only  echoes from a critical parent or others in the past.  Do you really want to keep punishing yourself?

Sure, why not! Who  cares?  I am nothing more than discarded flesh left on the roadside for the vultures to take pleasure in devouring whatever rests of my pitiful life.

You may feel some have it and some don’t and I am obviously not one of the lucky ones. Beaten up and bleeding, you end up retreating even more deeply into a dark void of no return.

When no more effort can come forth, and when only you realise how  broken you really are, can you give up trying to figure it all out.  There is no figuring it out in the first place!

Reaching the bottom of the barrel where only the dredges of souls ever reach, initially feels like the end, drowning in their own pain and misery.   Broken and beat, you feel defeated, yet pain sometimes has to empty you out in order to make room for healing.

If any of you have been rejected or abandoned by someone you love, or broken by life’s many trials, certainly you can identify with the above desperation and pain, because you know  these feelings all to well.  Loss of someone you loved is a death without the coffin.

This serves to just accentuate the pain;  knowing they are alive and well but have no desire of being with you anymore, especially if they have already taken up with someone else.

Acceptance is a hard bitter pill to swallow, but we have zero ability to change another person, so there isn’t another way to deal with this pain other than releasing our hearts and pain to a higher power.

This higher dimension belongs to the Divine One, I choose to call God, the All Knowing. The one that creates all life, the universal energy that births stars and galaxies infinitum.

Listen closely, as I am about to share something rather radical to your ears.  The Love you have carried in your heart for this person, never stemmed from you in the first place.  Pure love doesn’t come from you!

No, this love came from a higher source where only pure love exists.  This love does not have any need to be returned, nor has any expectations tied to it, because it is the purest energy of the Divine One and it is freely given to all.

When we love someone, we have only borrowed that love from the forever realm of divine love that is constantly swirling around in that other dimension that only our soul remembers, but our human mind can’t comprehend.

In that way the love you feel and have felt can never be lost, but only returns to the universal pool to await for you to share it with another, but only after you have first filled your own heart to heal.

You see, your own heart is a pitcher waiting to be filled to the brim with this Divine Love for yourself and all humanity, because we may look separate, but we are not.   Pain and despair scourges out that which limits you, creating more room for love to enter.

A heart can be filled with this divine love, but can’t really give pure love, if human will is always trying to fill their own empty heart to fix their lives,  rather than pour forth freely what they already have within themselves.. 

So if this love didn’t initially come from you, and now is being resisted, then it is time to give it back to the Divine Love Source.   After all, love is mysterious in the way it even connected you to that  person in the first place.

When the bonds of that relationship are weak and become severed, there is a reason, even if we can’t understand why.  There may be fundamental differences. that may or may not be known to you, that would not be able to sustain the relationship for long.

It could be the timing is not right, or that there is another person waiting in the wings of your life that wants to come in and will provide a much more fulfilling relationship.    Sometimes the Master Gardener weeds out those who would have only brought you even more pain than you now feel losing them. 

That other person may have come in your life as one your teachers, albeit a painful one. Surviving pain and despair can change the way we come to see life, orient us to the real priorities of being here, and opens us up to making needed changes in our life, if we don’t allow ourselves to become bitter, angry and hardened.

Acceptance is hard, but it can be the path of freedom to things we can not change.  Giving in and surrendering allows us time to heal, when our hearts are battered and weary.

We can give up our broken hearts to God, even though we can’t understand His ways. Even if you are agnostic or atheist, certainly you can posit that there is a higher power, energy or consciousness greater than your own human mind.

I would like to propose some rituals that have helped me and patients who have suffered the same pain as you have now.  They only require a will to do them.  They work in the spiritual realms, beyond our complete human understanding of how.

Mentally, try to picture all the love in your heart that you had for that person tied to a balloon .  Now, mentally imagine letting go of the strings of that balloon and see it slowly drifting toward the horizon, till it disappears from sight.  A mantra to accompany this and be repeated as often as needed would be “I release you (name of person) in the name of love. ”

Another mental imagery is to visualize using shears that cuts the bond between you and your lost love, saying the above mantra over and over.   Healing takes time!

This is for those who feel comfortable using a more pronounced ritual.  Take a white and green candle. First light the white one, as white is the color of purification and say the above releasing mantra.  Then light the green candle for yourself, as green is the color of healing and say “With this light I pray that my broken heart heals.”  Amen.

Even more concretely, you can also write words of your love on a piece of paper and tie them to a helium balloon and then go to a field of flowers, a lake, river or ocean, a park or your backyard and say your releasing mantra, as you let go of the balloon.

I might add an even more powerful spiritual gesture of releasing is called tonglen, from the Buddhist tradition.  It is basically connecting with the suffering of others by taking on the hurts and pains of others who are suffering around the world with the very same pain your feel and releasing it for them.

This is a beautiful and powerful conveyor of compassion for yourself and others. Compassion must start within your own heart for your own pain, before it can be fully given to others.

You can visualise gathering up all the broken hearts in the world, along with your own and doing the same mental or formal rituals or releasing with your breath.  All are powerful rituals that work in releasing pain, because,  they work in the spiritual realm, where healing comes from in the first place.

You are never alone in your pain, even if you feel that way.  I may never meet you, but I care about your suffering.  That is why I felt compelled to start this blog and to write this particular post.

Broken hearts can heal over time, and in doing so, become healthier hearts to hold love for someone else who is coming to you.   That person will be more in line with your soul energy and your soul’s path.

Acceptance, surrendering and releasing are ways for you to cleanse your heart and invite healing to come into your life.   Remember, you came into this world to learn about loving yourself and others.  You will love again!





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