Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Recent Adorableness

Someone is as soft as silk and as sweet as a vanilla cupcake, and is growing a fat, fluffy tail. 

All that smoky fur you see is new growth; much of the black fur he lost (he had to have burrs removed after he was rescued) has grown in white or gray. He's also getting fluffy cheeks and I love to play with them. While he just sits there and looks at me, purring his head off.

Annals of Real Estate: Another One Gets Away

Earlier this month, we went to a broker open house for a condo in an old stone church in Brookline, near Coolidge Corner. We fell in love.
The space in the living-dining room was dramatic, with a soaring, arched ceiling, three tall windows, and huge walls that could easily hold built-ins for the hundreds of feet of bookshelves that we need:
Over this room is a high-ceilinged loft more than 20 feet long, perfect for an office-library. There'd be space for many more bookshelves and a very long desk. My husband would have plenty of room for his papers, filing cabinets, and computer equipment. But we'd still be able to talk to each other when I was down below, and the mess work area would be invisible from there:
We were worried about cats jumping off that low wall and falling down into the living room, but we thought we could come up with some sort of low, glass-barrier solution. Here's the view from the loft:
The kitchen was small, but still much roomier than our current one, and very elegant: 
There was no a fireplace, and we really want at least one — but there are solutions for that, too. For example, gel-fuel fireplaces don't require a gas line or any special venting. They burn cleanly (and even crackle, like firewood) for about three hours, using cans of slow-burning fuel that's similar sterno. 
The lower floor had two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The sloping walls under the windows would be challenging for the cats, but I thought we could find a way to fix that:
We told the listing agent we'd be making an offer; we just needed to talk with our own agent and put the two of them in touch. We kept waiting for a phone call from our agent; who couldn't reach the seller's agent to ask a few more questions. But we heard the next morning that another couple had submitted an offer within a couple of hours of our seeing the place. And the sellers signed it right away, before we had a chance to put together our offer. The agent was very apologetic and seemed a bit stunned. She said she'd asked the sellers not to react so quickly. 

Ah, well. The other buyers had beaten us to the chase and won it fair and square. We were asked to submit our offer anyway in case theirs fell through. So we did — and it was handsomely over the asking price as we'd intended all along — but we learned last week that the deal was proceeding. 

So it's back to Square 1 for us, but we learned valuable lessons. We check for new listings multiple times every day, sometimes a few times an hour. The next time a prospect appears, we will get in to see it fast and, we hope, first. If we can't reach our agent to arrange this, I'll call the listing agent myself. And if we like it, we'll make an offer right away. No matter what.

In the meantime, we're trying to focus on the drawbacks of the church condo: no fireplace... no private outdoor space for gardening or sitting, which I would dearly love to have... and those big windows looked right onto an equally big parking lot. Then there were the various cat issues, although we think they would have loved running up and down the steps and exploring all that space. Then there was the dangerous proximity of Party Favors, famous for its cakes, cupcakes and fancy cookies. It was practically my closest destination.

No place is ever perfect (and almost no place that we like and can afford has enough space for all of our books). This one was lovely, well-situated, quiet, and would have worked for us, but we will need to work harder and faster... next time.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Toffee at Work: How Cats Learn

Toffeepot is here to demonstrate how cats learn by osmosis. When your cat lies down on your book, newspaper, or iPad, he is not simply doing it to annoy you — although that's certainly a bonus. Cats can absorb information through their fur. For example, Possum picked up much of his art historical, musical, and literary knowledge by sleeping on top of our bookshelves when he was still tiny enough to fit. He also knows a million recipes and a number of folk songs.

As you can see, Toffee is interested in learning about Indiana Authors and Their Books. But he is not all that interested. If he were really excited about this topic, he would have knocked my prized Huntley & Palmer's English biscuit tin (c. 1901) onto the floor and taken its place. The more real estate a cat occupies on top of his chosen publication, the faster and better the information can be absorbed.

So Toffee appears to be just casually dipping his paws into the subject of Indiana Authors and Their Books. (And who can blame him?) But here's a tip you can share with your own cats: Notice how Toffee has pressed himself against the top of the book, so he's touching all of the pages. This is another way to pick up information from the whole book at once. (This is a variation on Possum's method, which he obviously shared with his brother. It's a little slower, so they might as well have a nap.)

Toffee is soon going to be our local expert on Indiana Authors and Their Books. How nice this will be for Possum, Wendelina, Harris, and Lion. They will get to listen to him speak entertainingly on the subject for hours. I'm sure they are all eagerly looking forward to it.

Toffee loves to nap — but he is learning at the same time! If only this method worked for us humans.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Postcards from Paris: Luxembourg Gardens

Oh dear, it seems like much longer than a week ago....

On our last morning in Paris, we walked to the Luxembourg Gardens after breakfast. It's the second-biggest public park in Paris and not far from our hotel. It was a chilly, cloudy morning, but there were plenty of people in the park, including numerous joggers, families and tourists taking a Sunday constitutional, and the usual contingent of grown-ups and kids sailing model boats.

Then there were these two:

I suspect they are not Parisians; I doubt any local citizen would be caught dead, outside anywhere, in a hotel bathrobe OR those shoes. More likely... American.

We turned our attention to the beautiful trees, flowers, and statues in the park. The chestnut candles were in full bloom:

And so were beds of beautifully color-coordinated flowers:

Paris is so beautiful....

Walking back to the hotel, we passed a long wall that has recently been inscribed with a 100-line poem by Rimbaud in elegant lettering. (He wrote it nearby, when he was 16.) You can see one panel here; there are several more. (It made me wish I'd paid more attention in French class, for the 10,000th time.)

Crossing the Boulevard at "our corner," by the church of Saint Germain des Pres, we saw this gorgeous blue shrub in the garden (I'm usually distracted by the crèpe stand nearby, but it wasn't open this time):

I can't believe I'm already ready to go back. We still haven't recovered from our colds, or dealt with the "Seat Plus" refunds that Air France owes us for the flight home. But we discovered today that we are nearly out of our favorite tea (Butterscotch) from Mariages Freres (I asked my husband to take inventory; for some reason, he thought we had plenty). 

So it's just a matter of time.

Happy Easter

I'm sorry to report that we haven't compelled any of the cats to wear bunny ears for a photograph. 


Russian and Eastern European Easter eggs in a shop window on the Rue Bonaparte in Paris.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Postcards from Paris: Les Puces de Saint-Ouen

On Saturday, we took the Metro from the end of our street to the end of line, to the huge flea market (Les Puces) at Clignancourt. You must walk past a disconcerting number of cheap stands selling gaudy tee shirts, athletic shoes, and worse, before you get to the antique markets themselves.

It's a lot like a French Brimfield, with 17 acres of stalls and several big marchés, or markets, but those covered markets are in a class by themselves. You can find everything from jewels and high-end antiques to pristine Victorian clothing and ancient books. Some shops specialize in garden statuary, while others are loaded with vinyl records, so there's something for everyone. There are also little restaurants tucked here and there, as you might expect, because you're in France. And the dealers can be seen sitting down their mid-day meals in their showrooms or stalls — often elegantly, serving their bag lunch or take-out on china and silver — while seated at some antique table they hope to sell.

You can click on any photo to enlarge it. I kept them smaller so they won't take an eternity for you to load:

The Marché Dauphine holds dozens of dealers... vintage clothing, records, magazines, books....

The outside stalls are more like the ones at Brimfield, filled with cheaper finds.
But you won't find any gorgeous wisteria at Brimfield.

We admired the expensive, inlaid Syrian, Persian, and Egyptian furniture at this antique shop.
It's rare to see an entire shop filled with it, even in Egypt, so we were dazzled. 

Generally, the furniture in the markets is French, of course. And much too formal for us.
But I would have liked to bring this lion home on the plane.

There was a booth with three walls filled top to bottom with old key rings.

There is also a spaceship...

... with a groovy French interior. 

Lots of skulls in this shop.

And the inevitable rusty-metal garage-type stuff in this one.

Charming vintage dresses in the sun.

There's also art... 

but you can't have this chair covered in nails if you have cats.

I'm embarrassed to report that all we bought were some old Egyptian postcards, but we had a great time.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Postcards from Paris: Père Lachaise

A sunny spring afternoon seemed like the perfect time to visit Père Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris, in the 20th arondissement. We hadn't been there in more than a dozen years, so we bought a map at the gate and took a long stroll. The cemetery opened in 1804 and was a a little slow to become popular. After a few famous corpses were transferred here (la Fontaine, Molière, the ill-fated 12th-century lovers Héloïse and Abelard), Père Lachaise became fashionable and has remained so, with more than a million burials (to make room, they sometimes reopen older graves to squeeze in a new coffin). 

Plots come with a 30-year renewable lease. If no one renews yours, you're out. Your bones are moved to an ossuary to make room for someone else. So people are still buried here, although the atmosphere remains deeply rooted in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And that's why we like it. There are always plenty of visitors in this strange and beautiful place. Some are visiting the family tomb, and perhaps doing some housekeeping for it, while others make pilgrimages to the famous: many French statesmen, writers, composers, artists, and other notables. There are also some legends from other countries who managed to die in Paris and land in here: Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Gertrude Stein, Isadora Duncan, and Jim Morrison are among the lucky ones (although they may not have seen it that way at the time). 

The wide avenue just inside the gate.

I have been to Père Lachaise three or four times, every time I've always been asked at least once if I know where Jim Morrison's grave is. In my 20s and 30s, I always acted completely baffled, pretending I never heard of him. ("Don't you want to visit Frederic Chopin?") But I always surrendered and spread out the map. This time, I figured that no one would ask because so much time had gone by. Who is that into The Doors these days? But sure enough, two eager American kids came up to ask us. 

The monuments vary from small markers to elaborate mausoleums. Some are kept bright and clean, while others are covered with lichens and moss.

 Héloïse and Abelard lie under this Gothic Revival monument.

A prestigious family tomb. Money talks here, as it does everywhere.

A bronze relief on the door of a family tomb.

This is the tomb of a M. Lehman, but it would also suit the Seven Dwarves.

Old stone walls and flowering shrubs are among the beauties here. 
However, one of the cemetery walls was used by a firing squad in 1871, 
to shoot 147 holdouts from the Paris Commune who were camped here. 
They were buried where they died, and a monument marks the spot.

Tomb sculptures often represent the grieving.

Many mausoleums are decaying. This one is missing its metal doors,
 although its visitors still keep it neat and bring flowers.

This one's rusted art-nouveau doors seem permanently open.

Scores of cats live in Père Lachaise but we only saw one. 
He seemed healthy and well-fed. People feed them, and they hunt, of course.

He was a friendly cat; I petted him. Most French cats have excellent manners, it seems.
The cats of Père Lachaise even have their own Facebook page.

The cat was next to Chopin's grave, which is always covered in flowers.

There are monuments for those who died in each of the Nazi concentration camps. 
Some of these are extremely moving, eloquently symbolizing the horrors of those places. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Postcards from Paris: The One that Went into the Ether

The following "Things I Didn't Eat" post is my second attempt on the subject. I completed a much livelier and funnier version a few hours ago, and hit the "Publish" button — or so I thought. When I went to review it, it had disappeared, replaced by a few notes I'd made for a future post.

I will not blame Lion, although he made a trip or two across my keyboard around the time I was finishing the post. One can't blame anybody who purrs like that for anything. Ever.

I'm still a bit jet-lagged as well as in bad shape from a head cold, too many decongestants, and lack of sleep. But it seemed to me that these issues improved my writing, unless I was hallucinating. So losing that post was a blow. It was one of my better efforts. I wish you could have read it.

Postcards from Paris: Things I Didn't Eat

I took many more photos than usual on this trip, perhaps because I spent less time eating pastry and looking at pictures of our cats on my phone. (I still spent lots of time looking at cat photos).

Before I begin with photos, here are a few statistics from our 4.5-day stay in Paris:

Miles walked:
  • 54.8 miles, or about 12 miles per day (plus 10 trips on the Metro; we took it easy this time)

Sweet things consumed:
  • Half of a vanilla eclair (husband ate the other half)
  • 1 chocolate-almond croissant
  • 1 raisin escargot, or spiral croissant
  • 1 crèpe with apricot preserves (I found some on my boot the other day....) 
  • 3 crèpes with Nutella (including one sprinkled with almonds)
  • 4 tiny pots of apricot jam with my breakfast (a "flute" of delicious, buttered bread from Paul)
  • 1 tiny apricot sorbet cone from Berthillon
  • 1 large, peculiar roll: pumpernickel with chocolate chips?
  • 1 scoop of cioccolato fondente gelato from Amorino
  • 1 molten chocolate cake with pot of crème Anglaise (part of a prix-fixe meal, so no choice)
  • 1 bizarre, round brownie at the airport because we were stuck there for several hours
  • 1 chunk of the huge Toblerone bar my husband got at the duty-free for flight home
This averages to just 2.75 desserts a day (not including jam, which is practically a vegetable).

I'm supposed to be limiting my sugar intake since I got some bad liver test results so, as you can see, I had great self-restraint on this trip. For me, that is. On previous trips to Paris, I'd begin with a couple of smallish croissants at breakfast (un pain chocolat, un escargot aux raisins) along with a tartine of bread slathered with Nutella. Then I'd sample eclairs and other pastries from the more intriguing pastry shops I encountered throughout the day. And maybe have a little gelato or sorbet. After dinner, there'd still be room for a Nutella crèpe from the little stand at the end of our street. (I heard that, in Paris, it's a crime if you don't patronize your local crèpe stand every day, so I can't be blamed for this.)

I will get back on the straight-and-narrow of avoiding sugar to save my liver soon. But first we have to finish my husband's birthday cake from That Darned Patisserie (three layers of chocolate cake with orange mousse filling and vanilla buttercream frosting). I regard it as a health measure — preventing withdrawal.

So even though I was an ascetic instead of a gourmand on this trip, I think it will be easier to show you what I didn't eat in Paris: 

Fromage! I had some, but none of these regional varieties, most of which we don't see in the US.

Chickens and ducks, still with their feathery heads and creepy feet. 
I had chicken, but mine was decapitated, etc., and roasted to perfection.

A tiny sample of the glorious vegetable display at the Galeries Lafayette. 
Much too perfect to disturb, if you ask me.

When the French have trashy food, they make it even worse than ours: "Fitness chocolate cereal"? 

This little market had more than a half-dozen chocolate cereals,  including one that appears to have
 cream-filled pieces. American cereal aisles seem wholesome by comparison.

We had breakfast every day at Paul, but I didn't have even one of their eclairs. 
I didn't have even one of the fantastic chocolate tarts I customarily buy. 
I didn't have even one of these giant macarons, which are the size of a small whoopie pie. 
(There are no whoopie pies in Paris, as far as I could see. And I looked.)

I left every single one of these pastries for someone else, I regret to say.

And I was too lazy and cheap health-conscious to wait in line for the renowned pastries 
and macarons at Ladurée, a jewel-box of a shop half a block from our hotel. 
I was positively Spartan!