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my name is lesley stern and I am an addict

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My first taste was during the Menton Citrus Festival in February.   Some pusher on the street was handing out samples. I guess you could say it was peer pressure…I was trying to be agreeable. I generally pass on samples because I’m afraid they’ll make me buy something. That was the least of my worries.

The substance? Mille et un miels, Delice au miel au Citron de Menton (Honey with essence of the coveted Menton lemon). I’m pretty sure whatever they put in Starbucks Mocha Frappucinos (a habit I had to move to France to break), is also in this honey.   Something evil and irresistible.

I remember the flood of pure bliss when the honey first hit my lips.   My body was unprepared for the seratonin surge of lemony-honey goodness.   I think I blacked out for a few moments.  My friend Angela found me dazed on the sidewalk with a huge smile on my face and the plastic spoon still in my mouth.

I talked her into trying the honey (please don’t judge me, my intentions were good—I just wanted her to experience the pleasure, I swear!). The next thing you know we were both in the store buying a couple of jars each.

Since then, all my thoughts and actions have revolved around this nectar of the Gods.

Honey paraphernalia

Honey paraphernalia

I’ve been stocking up on honey paraphernalia.   I’ve googled the health benefits of honey.   The side effects.  Honey recipes.  The dangers of eating too much honey.   The history of honey.   Honey as medicine.  Signs of an overdose.  You name it.  Sometimes I have to rush home and indulge when the vague thought of a baguette, goat cheese and lemon honey has me jonesing for a hit.

Two jars don’t even last me through the following week. Granted, the jars are small (about 2/3 of a cup per jar) but it’s clear this is going to be a problem.   Especially since the minute I opened the second jar, I began to worry about how to get more.   As the jar empties, my worry rises to panic. The voice in my head becomes shriller:   Gotta get more.   Gotta get more.   GOTTA GET MORE!   QUICKLY, BEFORE I RUN OUT!    The mere thought of facing a morning without lemon honey slathered on toast/yogurt/fruit/ricecake/oatmeal/baguette/croissant/my hand… fills me with despair. I long for simpler days, when a cup of coffee was enough.

I make the 50 minute train ride to Menton a few days later under the pretext of visiting the Cocteau museum on the waterfront. It’s very nice; a glaringly modern (yet elegant) building that stands out with Menton as its charming old-world background.   It seems entirely fitting. There’s a lot of art, ceramics and stuff.   But enough about Cocteau!

I buy four more jars of honey and head on home.   On the train, I begin to worry that four jars isn’t enough. I’m already giving a jar to a friend as a thank you gift.   Oh jeez.   That only leaves me three jars.   And I will probably give another jar as a birthday gift.   Two measly jars?   That won’t last two weeks!   They need to make these jars in a large economy size!

I consider getting off in Monaco and going back for more, but I’m tired and the four jars of honey are pretty heavy.   And then there’s the embarrassment of going back in and buying more jars the same day. The shop girl will judge me.

Then I notice the flyer in my shopping bag.   There’s a website .   Maybe they sell this stuff a little closer to Antibes.

I hurry home and peruse the website over a refreshing cup of iced honey.   I discover there’s an online boutique and immediately order five more jars which will be delivered in two days.

The e confirmation arrives.   For the first time in weeks, I have this overwhelming sense of peace and that all is right with the world.

 

Postscript: I gave one jar to Michel, who called me immediately after trying it and told me his mouth had an orgasm and he was about to smoke a cigarette and take a nap.   I gave another jar to my friend Joc.   The following day, she chased me down the street holding out wads of cash, asking me to get her more next time I go to Menton.   Hmmmm, this might be a good way to support my habit.

all hail the mighty lemon!

Monet's rendering of a branch of Menton lemons

Monet’s rendering of a Menton lemon tree branch

Last year in French class, there was a discussion about the Menton Fete de Citron.   My friend Michel scoffed at the idea, wondering how can they have a whole festival for a goddamn lemon?   He wound up going and returned a changed man, with a newfound respect for both lemons and the French who gave the lowly fruit the love and attention it deserves.

This year, my friend Angela and I embark on the same pilgrimage hoping for a similar transformation.

Menton is two or three train stops east of Monaco/Monte Carlo (about 10 minutes), on the French/Italian border.   You can feel the Italian influence as well as hear, smell and taste it.

IMG_6954For a place you’ve probably never heard of, it’s quite beautiful with grand buildings built in the 1900’s when rich nobles wintered here. It boasts a long pebbly beach fringing blue, blue water, an old town splashed in the warm sunny colors of this patch of the Mediterranean. It’s surrounded by dramatic cliffs that seemingly drop from Alps to the Sea in a heartbeat creating a perfect micro-climate (316 days of sunshine a year, they say).

So, what is Menton’s main claim to fame?   Lemons, of course.   Well, citrus in general.   But the Menton lemon is special.   It’s larger, often misshapen.   It’s also supposedly sweet enough to eat like an orange (I beg to differ).

Legend has it that when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, Eve grabbed a big, golden lemon from paradise and took it.   When they finally settled in Eden-like Menton (which was probably called something else back then), she planted it.   An industry and tourism hook was born.

Every year at the end of February-early March, the town of Menton holds a Fete de Citron.  It’s their equivalent of Mardi Gras except replace the beads, masks, great music and young people with lemons and oranges.

IMG_6812The place is packed.  I’m a little frightened despite the fact that half the attendees are walking slower and more laboriously than me (the median age here, appears to be about 70—I feel like a spring chicken)..  This is my first major public outing without my walking boot, and one pushy German could ruin my hard won, still tenuous mobility for me.

Orange trees line the streets, full of ripe oranges, festive in their own right. There’s something very reassuring about a place where food grows on trees.   I put Menton down on my list of possible places to be broke and homeless.IMG_6845

The theme of this year’s festival is “20,000 leagues under the sea.” I honestly don’t know what it has to do with citrus, but what the hell. The parade is the strangest combination of floats: ships, fish made of citrus, mermaids and the most baffling float of IMG_6797all, a kangaroo made of citrus.   Possibly left over from the Australian themed Fete de Citron, or maybe the Marsupial themed one?  There’s also a garden of displays (like the Eiffel tower and pagodas done entirely in citrus) and fireworks at night, and all kinds of citrus based products being sold.

Rumor has it, the lemons and oranges used in the floats and displays come from  Morocco—which I suspect is true, given their uniform, smallish size.  Some of these Menton lemons are bigger than a pamplemousse!

Possibly the most exciting part of the Fete de Citron for me, is the Menton lemon honey I sample in the one the stores, Mille et un Miels.   OMG.   Give me a straw.   Hell, I’ll chug it straight from the jar.  I’ll eat it with my hands.   Angela and I both buy a jar.

When I get home, I sit down to Google Menton over a nice hot cup of Lemon Honey (with a little water).   I discover that Jean Cocteau the French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist, filmmaker. and general post-modern Renaissance man was an important part of Menton.   There is a Cocteau museum showing his work, as well as that of his friends’ Picasso and Matisse.   You can see more of his art in the Bastion, on the waterfront.

Being a person of taste and culture, suddenly, I’m obsessed with going back to Menton.  I’ve got to get more of that lemon honey!

i went to italy and all I got was this lousy dishrag


When I embark on the hour and fifteen minute train ride just over the border to the Friday market in Ventimiglia, I have visions of cashmere sweaters, fab purses, scarves, gorgeous italian cookery (and food), and an assortment of stuff for the maison.  Since I plan to stock up, I bring my big  shopping bag with wheels.

When I arrive in Ventimiglia and walk the three or so blocks from the train station to the waterfront where the market is held, I’m not disappointed.   It’s like miles and miles of consumer wares, from an array of gorgeous leather goods to housewares to dime store crap.     I’m atwitter with excitement — very similar to how I used to feel before going to Barney’s.

The first thing I see is cashmere sweaters.   I touch them, careful not to make eye contact with the proprietor.  Once you make eye contact, they’ll bargain you down and the next thing you know, you’re the proud owner of the butt ugly puce sweater (the one you happened to be touching when eye contact was made) because you can’t resist a bargain.  They’re thick, colorful sweaters in a variety of designs.   I want them all (except the butt ugly puce one), but know I can’t even consider buying anything at this early stage.

The prices and quality varies from stall to stall so I stroll the stretch along the promenade to comparison shop.

I’m told Ventimiglia is lovely.  A beautiful seaside setting, an ancient village perched on a hill, tree lined streets, cafes and gelaterias on every corner.



I wouldn’t know.  I’m so immersed in the shiny affordable objects everywhere, I might as well be at the mall.

It’s only been five minutes and I’m already in a mental frenzy.   What color should I get?  What style?   And more importantly, what?

Oh my god, look at the scarves!  It’s like the crayola 500 pack…so many colors!    Orange suede boat shoes for 10 Euro!   They say orange AND boat shoes are in this year.   This could solve all my fashion problems.   A huge chunk of parmesan reggiano for 4 Euro?!!!!!   That’s better than Trader Jo prices!  More cashmere…hmmmm, that reddy orange color is nice, but I’m not sure it looks good on me.  What do I wear it with?   It’s almost summer.   I don’t really need it.   What if that color is out of fashion by next fall?  Maybe I should just get black.   Boring.   Damn, I could use a large pot for pasta. Those are the most beautiful olives I’ve ever seen.  Ooooo, batteries.

By the time I’ve reached the last little stall, I’m still not sure what to get.   I want everything.  Sort of.    Maybe I’ll be able to narrow it down on my second lap.

It’s starting to get crowded,  and I’m just as confused this time around.  I can no longer think in complete sentences.   My brain is a cacophony of “blue? red? orange? green? v neck?  crew?  move it fat ass.   fuchsia? button down? zebra striped? 6 quart? 8 quart?  don’t touch me bitch.  crockpot? orcchiette?  penne?  double A?   triple A?   Jeezus christ lady don’t push!   zipper?   hoodie?   parmesan?   asiago?    BLUE!   periwinkle?   navy?  teal?  aqua? powder?

By the end of the second lap, I’m emotionally and physically exhausted.   I don’t know if I can handle another lap.   Especially without sustenance.

Do I want a sandwich from one of the stalls?   Something sea-foody from one of the cafes along the waterfront?   A pizza?  Panini?   Pasta?   Salad?   I’m getting woozy and need to sit down.

Three hours later (it took an hour to decide what to order, an hour to get it, ten minutes to inhale it and 20 minutes to get “la conta.”), I venture back to the market which is now a seething cesspool of humanity (I use the term “humanity” loosely.   I can’t go back in there.   But I must.   I can’t go to the famous Ventimiglia market and return empty handed.   I dive back in and find myself in front of yet another cashmere stall pondering the age old questions (Periwinkle? Navy? Teal? ….)

But wait!!!!    I can see them from here.   Shining like a beacon in the glaring sun.   A couple of little yellow and white dishrags.   I’ve been looking for something to replace the clumsy white terrycloth hand towel in my 1/2 bathroom.   And they’re called torchons in France and panni straccio in Italy, both of which sound much more elegant than dishrag.   1 Euro.   Sold!   My work is done here.   I’ll have to come back for the cashmere sweaters, the pots and pans, the purses, shoes and scarves another day.

On the train ride back to Antibes, I look into my almost empty wheelie bag and am overcome with non-buyers remorse.    I can’t believe I wheeled this thing all over Ventimiglia and only got a dishrag.   Damn,   I should have bought those olives!

french pharmacies: a source of drugs, cosmetics, knowledge and something akin to serenity

 You know how men are supposedly drawn to hardware stores?   That’s how I feel about French pharmacies.

I could spend hours tinkering with French skincare creams, nail polishes, cosmetics, haircare products and contemplating the ingredients in a bevy of drugs, herbs and salves.   French drugstores have a lot of the stuff you might find in Barneys or Sephora such as Caudelie, Nuxe, Darphin,  a smattering of Eucerin, Oil of Olay amongst lots of things with exotic sounding names that I’ve never seen before.   I just know there’s a  miracle unguent in there somewhere.

I don’t know if French drugstores are more or less expensive than American ones.   I got 7 Zyrtec,  24 Advil and some cough syrup for 8.50 Euro.  I do know that Tiger Balm is exorbitant at about 12 Euro.   On the other hand, Roger and Gallet is like Dove over here.

In addition to all the homeopathic, aromatheraputic medicines, the over the counter drugs are much more interesting than ours(for starters, their over the counter cough syrup has codeine!)   Once, long ago in Paris, they gave me the most wonderful pain killer that had me floating through the Tuilleries which I have devoted part of my life trying to find again.

In Europe, they’re big on plant based cures.   For example, when I had a cold and asked for something to help, they gave me these capsules of essential oils and Advil.   I don’t know if it worked or whether the cold just ran its course, but I’m feeling better, thank you.

I’ve learned a lot of French words in French pharmacies.   Appaisant means calming.   Minceur means thin as in lose weight.      Grippe means flu.   Toux is cough.   Cellulite means cellulite.

Today’s word:   allaitement.

While taking leisurely browse at the Grande Pharmacie d’Antibes I find an exciting product I’ve never seen: Weleda Tisane Allaitement pour Serenite.  Weleda makes these lovely plant based moisturizers, bath oils and skincare products, which I’ve always liked.   I figure the tea must be delicious and will calm my rattled overworked nerves.

I take the box to the cash register along with the Mavala Daring Pink nail polish and hand them to the cashier.   I point to the tea and say boldly “j’ai besoin de serenite”.

She looks at me really funny.   My mind started whirling as I try to figure out what word I’d mangled and how badly I’ve offended her.   I stammer out some words trying to explain…”j’ai beaucoup du stress… beaucoup de travail… donc j’ai besoin d…”   At this point she looks concerned, shakes her head, studies the box and babbles something to the other cashier.

I’m thinking, “oh merde, what have I said?   They’re gonna kick me out of the pharmacy, no, Antibes for this…maybe even France.

The other cashier blurts out with it (in English):   “this tea is for breast feeding!”   Now I know what “allaitement” means.   They must think I’m nuts trying to buy a tea for lactating mothers.   I’m one step away from being known as that crazy old American woman in Antibes.

I turn the color of Malava Daring Pink nail polish, slap myself upside the head and say…”Okay. Merci.  Le vernis de ongles seulment.   Ces tisanes ont tres, tres, tres pas pour moi”    Then we all have a good laugh.

I make a conscious decision not to spin myself into an uproar wondering how she knew I’m NOT breastfeeding (clearly I’m old and flat chested).   And despite the lack of serenity inducing tea, I swear to God, every time I look at my newly painted toenails, I feel pretty damn good.

if it’s 7pm tuesday, it must be belgium (again)-roadtrip to brugge, the shocking conclusion

I leave Ternuezen fortified by a full tank of gas, wafflenstroopen, chocomel and a good strong brew from the local coffee shop.  Any sense of direction I had when I arrived has mysteriously vanished.   Even with the vast North Sea guiding me, somehow I manage to take a turn that puts me on an exit-free path to the tunnel under the vast grey expanse orwater. This is particularly frightening since I can’t see any land where the end of the tunnel emerges.    But what really mortifies me is the possibility that there might be a toll on the other side of the tunnel.

My mind races hysterically as I hurtle towards the tunnel entrance.    I consider pulling over and waiting for the whole thing to blow over.   Or maybe a helicopter rescue.    Then next thing you know, I’m in the tunnel.   The first thing I think of is Princess Diana and slow down.   But there are no other cars in this tunnel and I’m in a hurry to get to Brugge, so I speed up.   It feels like I’ve been in this tunnel for years.   And frankly, the scenery sucks.   And I see no indication this tunnel ends anytime soon.   Dear God, what if this is some timewarp and I’ll end up back in 13th century England.   Or another planet.   Maybe I took a wrong turn and this is the Chunnel.   Maybe I’m dead and the vast expanse of water I’m driving under or through is the River Styx?   What if I’m the last person on earth?   What if I never make it to Brugge?   Who will take care of the kitties?

After what seems like an eternity, I spot the light at the end of the tunnel (or is it a mirage?).   Once I hit daylight, all I want to know is how to get off this thing.   And it looks like my only hope is the toll ahead.   I stop and tell the woman in uniform my plight.   I don’t want to be in Zeeland.   I took a wrong turn.   I want to go back (I point in the opposite direction my car is headed.   And I don’t want to pay the toll.   She takes my passport and tells me where to exit to get back on the highway.   They will give me my passport back when I get to the toll going the other direction.   It works and I’m back on the right side of the water again, looking for  a sign that I’m heading in the right direction.

I cheer when I pass a sign that tells me I’m back in Belgium. My anticipation builds as the kilometers to Brugge displayed on the signs dwindle down to a sign that says “Brugge”, followed by long stretch of road flanked by beautiful, shady green trees. The scene beyond is golden fields dotted by little oasis of trees and cute homes. I wait for the sign “centrum” to guide my way. And wait. And wait. I start to pass little hotels. A parking area, that I assume is for tourists. But no centrum sign. I see a church looming and figure this must be centrum. Old European cities always have an old church at centrum. But as I grow closer to the church, it looks cute and quaint, but nothing like the pictures I’ve seen. Where are the canals?

I know by now that I must resist every instinct I have to stop, turn around, consult the map, so I keep driving. I’ll know when I hit the Bruges I’m looking for. But this is quite a build up. It’s near 6:15 and I’m getting panicky. I keep going, cursing the Belgians again. But this is the freaking suburbs. Where the heck is Bruges? All these signs say this is Bruges, but where the hell is the damn Bruges I’m looking for? Just as I’m about to weep, I look ahead and see several towering, ornate church spiers like a mirage in the distance. Buses pass me with routes displayed that indicate I’m actually heading towards centrum! Oh happy day!

The old city of Brugges (zentrum) is actually a surrounded by a river .   Little cobbled bridges cross from new to old and I dare not cross them in a car, because even if cars are allowed in there, the streets will be very narrow and I don’t want to scrape my rent a car on some ancient building, so I find a place to park around the perimeter.   I head towards the bridge that crosses over to the fairy towers.

I cross over and enter the enchanted kingdom.   I stagger towards what I hope is the center of town, lightheaded with joy that I’ve finally arrived.   As it turns out, the lightheadedness is hunger. I need food. NOW! And though I’m weak and feeble with hunger, I do know for sure that I want to eat somewhere outside so I won’t have to miss a precious moment of daylight in Bruges. That caveat doesn’t narrow the choices down much. Once again, the important decision of where to eat ids determined by which establishment I almost faint in front of.

I collapse at the nearest table and face another decision my hunger leaves me too frail to handle. What to order.. Even though I’ve been fantasizing about Belgian waffles with maybe some strawberries, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce, my metabolism currently screams out for some sort of protein. And lots of really cold, fizzy, sparkling refreshing beverages. A beer would actually be good now, but if I have a beer I will definitely die if I try to drive back home afterwards.

I pathetically order a croque monsieur, frites, some fresh orange juice and soda water. The only word I can find that describes my dining experience is “hoover.” I wait for the protein and carbs to kick in. It was an act of desperation. So American of me.

The young girls at the next table are talking and blowing smoke in my face. Now, thanks to my experience shifting and driving at the same time, I have the coordination to hate the girls, and watch the floor show that is Bruges simultaneously. It’s like a dollhouse. Not like Amsterdam where there’s a gritty looking bum or two amongst the picture postcard scenery (or a fat naked pseudo-chick in a window). It’s just pure picture card scenery. Even the people are all pretty. And more stylishly yet tastefully dressed than what I’ve seen in Paris or New York. This would be a great place to be rich and slightly innocuous. Hmmm, maybe this is where I should search for my new love interest. Hell, I’ll marry anyone who can offer me a life of wealth and innocuousness.

I love Bruges but I don’t LOVE it. But I do wish I could spend the night. At over E300/night, it’s not even a consideration. It’s almost 8PM now, growing cloudy and I begin to worry how to find my car since I have no idea how I got here. Either I must find a husband immediately, or start thinking about heading south.

I pay the waitress the E16.00 for the grilled cheese sandwich, fries and juice and figure I’m entitled to enlist her help. I don’t know what language these people speak, but it sure as hell isn’t French. I describe the entrance I used to enter Bruges and she gives me a map and draws some circles. Luckily, words like “fairy castle” and “moat” bridge the lingual chasm.

I take one last stroll, noticing among other things that my second favorite cookies in the world (Jules Destrooper, cinnamon butter biscuits)  that happen to be made in Bruges cost 15% more to buy in Bruges than they do in Auvers. What is wrong with these Belgians anyways? How can it cost more NOT to transport them? This place is really expensive. And E.30 every time you pee can really add up. Maybe that’s why it’s so pleasantly untouristed. Until now I just chalked it up to bad advertising. Or it could be a plan to keep the riff raff out. Which reminds me I have to leave.

At 9:30, I decide it’s time to head back in the direction the waitress and I believe the car is. I don’t want to drive when it’s dark, but am resigned to it. Miraculously, I find the car easily. Finding the right road back to Lille is another story. I’m halfway to Brussels before I realize I should have turned off at Belgian Gent. Obviously towns named Gent of any nationality town are a thorn in my side.

I head back towards Gent, cursing the Belgians yet again.

The rest of the ride back to Auvers is pretty uneventful. I drive towards a big storm which looks really cool with the cracks of lightening in the distance. But the actual stormed misses me by miles…no, kilometers. Trucks light my way. I piss off a woman at a rest stop for almost killing her children by mis-shifting (what a bitch!). I don’t get lost again and make it home by about one thirty in the morning. All in all, I think I drove about 6 hours longer than I had to, essentially doubling the road time. But I didn’t die. And I’m pretty sure the car is unscathed.

As a short side note, One difference in the three countries I visited could be seen clearly in my rear view mirror. The response to my driving mishaps and general slowness in France and Holland was generally tolerant amusement. In Belgium I could see a lot of inpatient finger tapping and “tsk”-ing going on. Occasionally a horn would burst forth. I reacted like any good American and flipped those drivers off. But I never once resort to headlight butting, at least not on purpose.

After a good night’s sleep, and some major dawdling, I return the car which has been a source of freedom, but also an incredible burden.

When the guy at Europcar finishes inspecting the car and tells me “c’est bien” I feel a burst of pride and accomplishment mingled with relief. It’s a heady combination. I leap up in the air, pump my fist a few times and shout “oui!, OUI.” The way I’m cheering, you’d think I just won the World Cup.

Tunnel notes: Turns out the tunnel I was trapped in is called the Westerschaldetunnel and at 6.6km (approx 4.1 miles).    It only seemed like the longest tunnel in the world.   The real longest tunnel in the world is the Laerdal Tunnel in Norway at 15.2 miles.

One last word of warning: Those passive aggressive Belgians have one final trick to get the rest of us totally lost in their country.   Some of the highway signs indicate the old time dutch name for Lille (Rijsel), rather than “Lille”.    Beware!   Lille=Rijsel.

keeping up avec les jones

I knew my good old American consumerism would take effect in one form or another. It was just a matter of when, what and how much.

In NYC, every time I went out in public, I was subjected to a barrage of ridiculously expensive things that my life would be incomplete without. Life was a constant bombardment of I need a pedicure, double mochafrappucino, boob job, hepa air purifier, krispy kreme and brown purse. And that was just in one block. As my income spiraled downward, I managed to maintain the rampant desires, but scale them down to size. A one block stroll became I need nail polish, a candy bar, a lightbulb, lipbalm, allergy pills and ant traps or my life won’t be complete. I believe that’s called adaptation.

Since I’ve been in Auvers, that looming hole in my soul that could only be filled with something I have to buy, has been surprisingly unobtrusive.

Sure, there’s the occasional deep yearning for a lamb brochette tempting me in the boucherie window. There’s the tarte frambois beckoning from the boulangerie. Since I haven’t read any magazines telling me what to covet, I wouldn’t know what will make my life complete if it slapped me in the face.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I do find myself coveting gardens (I believe Freud called it ‘Garden Envy’).

The flowers here in Auvers are spectacular. From week to week, a new batch of flowers crops up just as another one dies. And every week I think this week can’t possibly top last week’s, but it usually does.

I even covet the weeds.

It’s obvious people put a lot of care and expense into their yards. Some are overwrought, some are painstakingly wild, others look more English and overgrown and sometimes just the part spilling out into the street looks like I wouldn’t mind spending time, breathing the air and enjoying the view with a nice tall cool glass of something.

Every house is a statement. From the shutters, to the window boxes to the outer walls. So it’s been bothering me a little that my yard isn’t saying it with flowers as eloquently as I see everywhere else.

I mean, when the parking lot nearby has more flowers and greenery than your yard, you start to get a complex. Even if you don’t own the yard.

What to do? Obviously, I’m broke. I came here to cut down on expenses, not spend it on something as temporary as annuals.  Isn’t that more foolish than spending it on fashion? On the other hand, a few plants are cheap compared to fashion. . I briefly consider stealing a few plants that appear to be wild. Scratch that, they probably belong to the town and I’ll be arrested or something. On the other hand, jail would be rent free and I could stay in the region when my time here is up. But when I imagine my prison cell, I definitely think it needs flowers, which brings me back to my original problem.

Maybe if I gave myself a $30 limit? When you think about $30 to spruce up a house, even for only six months, is a bargain! An opportunity that can’t be missed!

I’ve been quietly pricing plants in my journeys. (I also covet the bloomenmarket in Amsterdam, by the way). Little boutiquey plant stores are out of the question, especially if they have the FTD logo in front—a sure sign they’re overpriced. The Thursday/Saturday market is okay, price-wise, but I should be able to do better. The Isle Adam market is on par with Auvers. So for the time being, I focus my energies on buying food.

But while on a trip to Epluches, St. Ouen to survey Le Clerc, a French hypermarket (a big huge supermarket with everything from booze, to cereal, to garden furniture to underwear to travel agent at cheaper prices—sort of a French Costco, I imagine.), the pangs of crass consumerism start to rumble. So many different cookies, cheeses, desserts…of course, I must try them all. In the spirit of discovery, of course. This is an integral part of French culture afterall. Shall I start with the Bon Maman citron madelines or the Laiterie Pots au crème chocolat? Or both? But my musings are interrupted by a feeling–something powerful and impossible to disregard. Like a hunter dog getting a whiff of prey, my every nerve is on alert. My inner paws are pointing frantically. Then I realize what they’re pointing at– the leclerc also has a centre de jardin

Culinary exploration be damned! I’m off and running.

A flat of petunias for E 6. 10 trailing geraniums for E 7. Now we’re talking. I contemplate the flowers like I used to consider a blazer at Barneys: After what seems like hours of mixing, matching and trying out every conceivable combination, I load up on pinks, cream, yellow and purple accents, keeping in mind the allotted funds available to me.

The woman at the cash register speaks to me. I nod and smile and say “oui” or “non, merci” depending on the tone of her questions. She rings them up. I almost have a heart attack when I see the number—196.000. Mon dieu…I can’t afford this and there’s no way I’mn proficient enough in French to explain it, especially since this seems to becoming a my little goat moment. I’m either having a hot flash or some sort of panic attack (I’m not sure which would be worse) and any moment a drop of sweat from my forehead will fall on the counter, compounding my humiliation. Maybe if I act like I’ve forgotten something (I’m good at that hit my forehead and emitting a sigh of exasperation thing). Then I can pretend like I’m going back to get whatever it is I forgot and skulk off like the loser I am. But the cashier says “vingt six, and I realize that the first number was in Francs. I giggle with relief as I pay her.

I load my new possessions into my bags and make it to the train station just as my train is arriving (surely a sign that buying these plants was the right thing to do).

When I get home I immediately put the flowers in the windowboxes. I wind up with a total of five. The problem is, I don’t have enough dirt to fill the boxes. I figure I can go back for that later. In the meantime, I put the lovely window boxes in the windows. It looks much better. I can almost hold my head up high. I’m very proud that I’ve been able to satisfy my crass consumer cravings for under 30 dollars.

But now that I really look at the gestalt of it, the window boxes just make the lawn and the rest of the yard seem…well, lacking. there are a couple of spots in the garden bed that could use an nice annual or two. I guess when I go back for dirt I can pick them up.

And why does the neighbor’s lawn seem so much greener than mine? I wonder if there’s something wrong with my lawn. I’m sure there’s something I can get for that. And those little red bugs are a real problem, What sort of spray do I need to get rid of them?

I start to write a shopping list. Sure, it’ll cost some money. Sure, I can’t afford it. But if this yard doesn’t fulfill its potential, I’ll feel as though I’ve missed an opportunity. This is about experience, not a gross desire to acquire stuff. And I’m pretty certain that there will always be something incomplete about my experience here in Auvers, if I don’t make this yard the best yard it can be. At the very least, I’ve got to make it better than the yard next door.

paris fashion notes

carrie-bradshaw-satc-movie1-previewimages-2Ever since I quit my advertising job, I’ve spent very little time on Madison Avenue (meaning Barneys and Bergdorf, or as I liked to call them with a certain amount of sour grapes, fashion victim central). I havn’t looked at a Vogue, Harpers Bazaar or Elle since pink was the new black

Needless to say, I’d been feeling hopelessly out of place on the New York city streets for quite awhile. Sure, there was my out of style Levis and non-brand name tee shirts, but more importantly, my face still moves. I often got the feeling that women I knew recoiled in shock, horror and pity when I smiled or furrowed my brow. I was also convinced that I was the only remaining B cup left in Manhattan, which I think may have qualified me for my own personal display in the Museum of Natural history.

Aside from the 600 dollar price tag for a lousy shot of botulism toxin (wouldn’t it be cheaper to cultivate my own? I had some funky looking cans of soup that were probably chock full of the coveted poison), the whole idea of injecting something that used to have a skull and crossbones on the label into my face seemsto be pushing fate. And major surgery to insert huge plastic globes in my breasts seems more ridiculous than…well, cutting off my ear.

So when I go to Paris, I watch the women with interest trying to get an idea of what’s in style and whether my next move will have to be to a country where Burkas are mandatory.

carla-bruni-sarkozy_0The good news is, I won’t have to move to Iran for several years, at least.images

The first thing I notice (or don’t notice) is the omnipresent low cut satiny lingerie type blouses with huge plastic breasts on display with cleavage up to the chin aren’t present. Not a one. Nor is the night of the living dead parade of bandaged women on the streets that’s so popular on Madison avenue and Soho. Maybe the French just have the good taste not to emerge until their plastic surgery scars have healed. And I won’t have to invest in absurdly low cut jeans or acquire the obligatory rolls of fat that accompany them (where is lipsuction when you need it?

I scrutinize the French womens’ faces and smile at them. They smile back and their eyes actually crinkle. Some of the women even have grey hair, god forbid. Further, their faces are not caked with Lancome, Chanel and all the other ridiculously expensive make up products American women seem to believe are the height of fashion in France. And the B cup seems to be the norm here—for the first time in ages, I almost feel adequate. These women actually look human.

Before I left New York, I consulted a couple of fashion experts to see what the summer trends would be, just to make sure I didn’t stand out like a sore thumb. I was told to wear wedgies with two inch platforms and another four inch of heels, brightly colored skirts, tiny little sweaters and to carry a large brightly colored leather bag, preferably by Louis Vuitton or Prada if I didn’t want to feel hopelessly out of place. Thank goodness I couldn’t afford to take their advice or I would have felt hopelessly out of place.

The women here seem to be much more casual, usually wearing jeans, cargo pants or a simple dark slightly above the knee length skirt, blazers and very basic small leather purses. Their shoes are generally stylish, yet comfortable looking. And there’s not a tiny sweater in sight.   I’m pretty sure Carrie Bradshaw would have been laughed out of town.

As further research, I enter a couple of drug stores and the cosmetic departments of department stores. Unlike the mile long displays of exhorbitantly priced French named cosmetics found in the US, the array is small and simple, mostly devoted to skin care, rather than cover ups. And unlike the 200-500 dollar miracle creams peddled in the US, the creams here are in the 50 Euro range and seem to have the same miracle incredients.   Creme de la Mer is nowhere to be found.

The clothing lines are simple, consisting of names that for the most part, I haven’t heard of. And the only place I can find Channel, Louis Vuitton, Versace, and the other designer names popular in the US is on the Rue St. Honore-Fauborg, where the only languages spoken seem to be American, German and Japanese.

Isn’t Paris the fashion capital of the world? What’s going on here? Is it possible that the women here are guided by some innate sense of style, rather than the fashion magazines?

I begin to think that the designers and fashion magazines have been pulling the wool/gabardine blend over Americans’ eyes all these years. Is the still  booming billion dollar plus US beauty and fashion industry based on a lie?   Why not?   It seems most of our billion dollar industries are.   So now my only remaining fashion question is how can I cash in on that lie so I can afford to buy the $2,000 dollar Louis Vuitton purse I saw in a store window.

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The real housewives of elysee palace A look at President Sarkozy’s many wives and their many lovers.  Lots of information and pix of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.    And you thought the Kennedys were busy.

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A sad addendum regarding French women and cosmetic enhancements.    I just came upon this recent photo of Carla Bruni.  Hopefully it will scare other French women from doing it.

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