Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Very Late Postcards from Paris

Look what turned up in the mail... I think these are the last postcards from this trip. But I do want to tell you about various things that I saw people wearing. It would have been rude to take photos, so I'm going to have to rely on words. Horrors.

The Seine and its banks looking moody in the afternoon

A houseboat by the Pont des Arts with a flourishing container garden.

Written on this houseboat: "To say that the stars are the dew of heaven"  "to be continued"

Antiques are more... antiquated in Europe. And generally more precious and luxurious, too.

My grandparents had many hunting trophies. I felt right at home with these. 
(Well,maybe not the rhino.) My husband doesn't like them.

This wild-haired fellow at the corner café seemed very French, sitting outside on a chilly night.

Then he began gesturing to his iPhone.

A typical "translated" menu. Let's have the welcome salad and the salers burger.
In other words, surprise us. (I learned that "Salers" is a cattle breed and also a type of cheese)

Proud plaque on the wall of a workshop:
"The least productive producer of notebooks in the western world."

Fleuriste on the Ile Saint Louis. 
I often plan to buy flowers for our room, and then I don't.

It's nice to see a familiar face on the street.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Possum Doesn't Love Harper Lee

Possum has joined the many thousands of American cats who had to figure out for themselves that To Kill a Mockingbird has nothing whatsoever to do with how to murder birds.

"False advertising!" said the disappointed Possum, who had difficulty following the story, partly because he kept skipping ahead, hoping to get to the bird carnage and the hunting tips. He couldn't understand why Boo Radley was "different." He said Boo was the least mysterious character because his quiet, noble, reclusive behavior was the most catlike — in Possum's interpretation, Boo was a typical indoor cat. All the other characters talked too much, he said. And Possum always has trouble understanding race issues since cats don't care a bit about their fur colors, eliminating such problems entirely. 

However, there were just enough mentions of bugs throughout the story to hold his interest.

Lion, Learning

Lion wanted to know what all the fuss was about, so he began reading Indiana Authors and Their Books as soon as Toffee was finished.

He is still wondering what all the fuss was about.

Fortunately, cats are able to read and sleep at the same time.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Adieu, Tour de France

The South End just got a nicer, if less "colorful." A reader just sent me this comment:
We observed the owner at Tour de France's verbal abuse on a few occasions. Went by there today and saw the store closed and empty! Apparently replaced by an art gallery. Not particularly shedding any tears ....
This Thayer Street store sold beautiful French imports: antiques, furniture, art glass, china, pewter, and a wide variety of table linens. But the owner, a Frenchman, was the retail equivalent of the Seinfeld Soup Nazi. My husband and I were victims of one of his nasty, screeching tirades back in 2008, and it cost him the sale of an expensive set of antique art-nouveau dining chairs. He accused us of nearly breaking a Lalique vase that we had been nowhere near, among other things. I wrote a stunned review on some web site, and can't find it now. But there are more than a hundred other, similar online stories from his staggered, quivering victims, detailing outrageous behavior.

In all my visits to France, I was only treated rudely by a shopkeeper once. (Hotel Coste candle shop, j'accuse!) And since that rude fellow spoke English, I made sure he understood that I was amazed, and just... so hurt... by his nastiness, and I kept it up until he began to feel bad himself, as he wrapped and rang up my purchase. There is a polite ritual for shopping in France: you greet shopkeepers briefly as you enter and leave. It's customary, but if you don't do it, you won't be attacked — you really won't have anything like a Tour de Force experience. Most shopkeepers will assume you are a foreigner and they might greet you first, and the worst that ever happens is that you're ignored. (Which is what most American browsers prefer, anyway.) I greet shopkeepers all the time in Boston, too. Once you start, it just feels nice to do it, and awkward not to.

French people are very nice. Given all the ignorant, silly tourists doing ignorant, silly things all over Paris, all the time, and often much too loudly, it's surprising how patient and polite the residents generally are. 

Anyway, Tour de Force was something else entirely. In 2010, I posted the following after a brave second visit on a Saturday in March:
Then we steeled ourselves and went into Tour de France. Exactly a week ago, we were at the Marché aux Puces in Paris, and we just needed a French fix. We first visited Tour de France a couple of years ago — and had the most appalling retail experience of our lives. We were treated like clods incapable of not knocking over valuable items, when we hadn't touched a thing.
During today's visit, the owner was singing to himself, in his beret, rearranging silverware on a table, and pointedly ignoring everyone in his store. Fine with us. We fantasized about knocking over a vase, but... aha! Those dining chairs from 2008 are still there! There is justice after all. (We'd gotten ourselves a set of lovely antique bentwoods at a fraction of their price.)
I recommend reading Tour de France's "Yelp" reviews; choose a time when you need some cheering up. You will seldom find so many colorfully detailed, thoroughly appalled, ferociously negative reviews of anything in Boston. It will brighten your day just to know that at least you avoided an attack  at Tour de France — and that it would be impossible for you to ever behave as badly as he routinely did. So just go here, and when you are finished with those, be sure to dip into some of the next 110 reviews that are not "recommended" but also have a horrified, disbelieving tone that is almost uniform. (There are some positive reviews; the owner wasn't always in the store and his assistants were far more civilized. And a few of the reviews are suspiciously praiseworthy, as other reviewers point out.)

At Apartment Therapy,You can find more horror stories along with photos of the store. It really was lovely, in the alluring, entrancing way of, say, poisonous shrubs that have luscious-looking but deadly fruit. You browsed among those table linens in mortal peril.

I must say I am not that surprised that the shop closed — and not because thousands of people had terrible experiences there. My husband and I were in the South End last month and thought we might be in mood for punishment, so we braced ourselves and entered Tour de France. We nodded a polite but silent greeting, on our guards, tiptoed about, and waited for the hostility to begin. Instead the owner was pleasant to us, complimentary in fact. We felt shock and awe. Then we praised his linens right back, in flowery adjectives. He really did have heaps of elegant things. As we left, he said to us, "You look very French with that baguette under your arm. Bonjour!" 

Aha! We'd gone to a bakery earlier, and had forgotten about the baguette since we are always carrying them around. Until the owner said that, I had wondered if he were having something akin to a breakdown, given his dramatic personality change. But no, it was just our baguette. 

But now I will always wonder if it was indeed a sign of The End. Bonsoir tristesse.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Harris posed for us as we were having dinner last night. We were lucky my husband had his iPhone handy. He is simply the most photogenic cat ever. And he knows it. He obliged us with different angles and expressions as we complimented him. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Marathon and Magnolias

For decades, I avoided the Boston Marathon like the plague since I don't like being in crowds and my neighborhood fills with a billion more visitors every Patriots' Day weekend. We usually hole ourselves up in our apartment for most of the day, and listen to the cheers coming from two blocks away. However, after what happened last year, attention had to be paid. So we did what all Proper Bostonians did on Monday, and stood in the crowd to cheer for a while. Long enough to mark the occasion.

Long enough to notice what shiny, healthy hair Marathon spectators have:

More shiny Marathon supporters:

The Real Show this week is the magnolias on the sunny side of Commonwealth Avenue. 

I say the "sunny side" because the shady side of Comm. Ave. has nuthin'. You have to trust me on this. I took a photo of the barren wasteland over there to show you. But then I deleted it because I forgot what point it was trying to prove. I just thought it was an accidental, boring photo. It looks like the trees are about three weeks behind over there. Honest.

The other remarkable thing on Comm. Ave. is the two pots of Boston Strong yellow daffodils in blue pots (2013 Marathon colors) decorating almost every doorstep on both sides of the street, all the way from Arlington to Mass. Ave. They looked great, whether they were the only flowers on the steps or accompanying some beautifully planted urns.

I haven't found anything about the Great Marathon Daffodil Dispersal Initiative online anywhere, so if someone knows the story, please send me a link. But I suspect it all started at 5 Commonwealth Avenue, a vast, luxurious single-family that was all decked out, with a professionally printed Marathon tribute sign over the front door and pennants lining the fence:

I was more interested in their magnolia when I was taking photos that day; it was only as I walked along that I noticed all the potted daffodils and put two and two together. When I went back the next day to take more photos, all the Marathon decorations were down.

If you live near Boston, today is probably the best time to stroll down Comm. Ave. and drink in the fragrance as you try not to wipe out on fallen petals; many trees are just past peak. Or come a few weeks from now and walk the other side.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Late Postcards from Paris

The postcard I sent my sister from Paris just arrived yesterday, while others I mailed at the same time arrived days earlier. It could have been the fault of my poor handwriting, I suppose. Anyway, more postcard posts are here, too. Click on any photo to enlarge:

We often walked by the Seine as the weather was warm and lovely. Usually we are there
in winter or fall. Spring came earlier in Paris; Boston didn't have any leaves when we left.

The elegant staircase at the Gustave Moreau Museum

I admit I was always more taken with Moreau's staircase than with his paintings....

I didn't see any men dressed anything like this. I'll describe what I did see in a future post. 

Paris has plenty of graffiti and most of it is not a bit romantic.
But we thought this, under the Viaduc des Arts, was perfect.

A sleeping beggar and her black-and-white cat.

Beauty everywhere.

Printemps, a jewel box of a department store. 
My husband was all, "Why are we going in here?" Then he saw.

This trip, our jet lag put us onto a very French schedule. We would become comatose 
in the late afternoon and wake up hungry for dinner at 8 or 9, which is when Parisians 
like to eat. So we saw a lot of the city in the evening. On other trips, we'd be back in our 
room  by 9, instead of enjoying a second wind.

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 what I call "literary 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.