Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Zaz, a rising star in French music

Zaz, bête de scène
Zaz, born to be on stage

(unknown photographer)

Today, I would like to introduce you to a very special young lady. Her name is Isabelle Geffroy, but in France and in Europe, she is known as "Zaz."

Zaz became a "Star" just three years ago, but she has been involved in music her whole life. She was born in the center of France, near Tours. When she was a child, she joined the renowned Tours music academy where she studied the violin, the piano, the guitar and singing. She is only 11 when she leaves the academy, but she will keep working hard at her art over the next few years, more noticeably in Bordeaux. She claims she was inspired by Vivaldi; jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald; French singers such as Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour; Jacques Brel; Bobby Mc Ferrin, and she loves rap, afro, latino, and cuban music. Drawing from a variety of styles and influences, she has created her own sound. They refer to it as "Zaz's gypsy jazz sound." Maybe. To me, her music is unique, inspired and... happy! Let me warn you, her tunes are catchy and addictive.

Here is her breakthrough single, "Je Veux" (I Want.) Zaz is not a materialistic girl and she wants the world to know!

There she is, singing in the streets, with a couple of musicians. Does she remind you of someone? Zaz has often been compared to the great Edith Piaf, who started as a street performer. Like Piaf, Zaz is renowned for her "gouaille," a cheeky, outspoken way of expressing herself. While still an unknown singer, I suspect she did justice to all of the great Piaf's songs, but also infused them with her own style and personality.

Zaz, "une personnalité" (a "character")
(Unknown photographer)
Even though she looks barely 20, Zaz is in her early 30s and has been performing with small bands all over Europe for years. She is full of life, passionate, [admittedly] loud; loves the stage, and in spite of appearances (she makes it all look so easy,) is a hard worker.

Zaz on stage
(unknown photographer)
Her voice is unique. Husky, broken at times, but powerful. The girl also has rhythm. She can imitate the sound of a trumpet like there is no tomorrow. As a side note, like me, she enjoys walking in city streets and people-watch. Here is another favorite song: Les Passants (the Passers-by.) This is a live version, just Zaz and two musician friends, performing in Paris near Montmartre.

If you look up Zaz's videos on YouTube, you will notice there are many versions of her songs, both official videos and live sessions, recorded in concert or in the street. Often, comments are written by fans based in Greece or in Eastern Europe, Russia for example. That is because she toured extensively in those countries before she made it to the big leagues. She also performed (primarily in small venues) in Egypt and Japan. Now that she is famous, she continues to tour in France and around Europe. According to her official website, Zaz will be in Germany this spring. 
Here is the official version of my favorite Zaz song: "La Fée" (the Fairy.) I heard this is an amateur video a father shot of his young children (both Zaz fans, apparently.) He sent it to the singer, who loved and adopted it. The words in the song are somewhat mysterious, and it starts like this: "Moi aussi, j'ai une fée chez moi..." (I have a fairy in my house, too...)

Zaz, if you are reading this, when are you coming to Seattle? I know you prefer performing in small venues, and I think I have just the place for you! Check this out: You, too, could perform at the venerable Paramount Theatre, a local landmark. Imagine your name up there, in big letters! I will bring a crowd, that's a promise! The Pacific Northwest could use some of your contagious joie de vivre this time of year. Think about it, d'accord?

Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA
French Girl and les Girls, Mamma Mia,
Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA 3/24/2012
An experienced musician and performer, Zaz still only has a couple of albums out. Here is her breakthrough CD, released in 2010.

I have also heard of a Live album but have not listened to it yet. It is featured on her website. 
In 2010, she officially became France's favorite female performer, and the rumor has it her concerts sell out in a few hours. She is courted by renowned TV shows, where she appears on occasion, a bit shy, but true to her style, and often performs with more established French artists. I saw her recently in an interview with renowned French composer and singer Pierre Perret. She did more than hold her own! The song is Perret's moving "Mon P'tit Loup." (My little darling.) Beautiful.

And here she is. 32 years old. Une étoile qui monte (a rising star,) in European music. I listen to Zaz a lot. She is French, but also a citizen of the world, because her music incorporates so many styles and cultures. No wonder she has such a widespread appeal. Respectful of the past and her idols, Zaz also looks forward and creates a brand new sound. From now on, the sky is the limit! If you don't know her yet, do yourself a favor, and download her music. You will not be regret it. 
A bientôt.
For those of you who speak French, this website lists the words of all Zaz songs on the 2010 "Je Veux" album, as well as the video clips. Enjoy!

All right. If you insist. There is always an Encore, after all. So, for those of you who have not had enough, voilà two more video clips.

Zaz sings Edith Piaf:  During a French TV show, she interprets "Padam-Padam" for the audience and French singer Veronique Sanson.

Zaz chante Edith Piaf: "La Vie en Rose." Check out the talented, happy girl in action!

A bientôt.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Happy Birthday, French Girl!

Warning: This post includes champagne, chocolate, lots of laughs...
and a green dog!

I am très fatiguée. Exhausted, even. Just coming out of the famous celebration known as "Veroni-kkah." What do you mean you have never heard of it? Well, let me fill you in. A few days ago, I celebrated my birthday. It started over the weekend; it spread through the week; then carried over to the following weekend. For all I know, we will still be celebrating by the time the French elect their next president next May. I bet candidates would be miffed if that happened. Neither Sarkozy or his opponent François Hollande want me to steal their thunder and distract my countrymen from performing their civic duty!

Not to worry. I have had my fun and shall now retire back to my quiet suburban life... until next year. It's probably best if I get my beauty sleep anyway.

I thought I would give you a run down on the past week's events; or at least some of the highlights. First, let me say this, and say it loudly: I have great friends. De supers amis. They are thoughtful and fun. They are the best. I would have been happy with receiving their wonderful messages and cards; in the mail, or on Facebook. They did not stop there (neither did Le Husband and Junior.) 

On the other hand, Seattle was a bit of a party pooper. Sorry, had to say it. Seattle may (or may not,) have received the memo about Veronikkah. Seattle did not care. Searching through her bag of [climatic] tricks, the Emerald City put on quite the show. Wind storms. Hail. Snow. Cold temperatures. Rain, of course, lots of it. 

Yeah, right!

Listen, I am a girl. I can tell when another girl is trying to steal the spotlight. But it did not work. I had fun anyway. Take that, Seattle. Or, to quote The Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) in Downtown Abbey: "Put that in your pipe, and smoke it!"

Tell it like it is, Violet!

I realize the world did not stop turning just because of my birthday. Your life went on, as did mine; but it was interspersed with fun moments, and for that, I am grateful. 

Voilà some highlights. 

Last weekend, Les Boys and I treated ourselves to a favorite winter activity: We went boat hunting. Never mind that we mostly end up not buying anything (boats are expensive, you know.) The fun part is the search; browsing online; spending some time on a sailboat; meeting owners. We drove for three hours round trip to find a used Beneteau located in Tacoma, WA. It poured the whole time. It is fair to say that nobody around here drives to Tacoma in the rain (or, arguably, in any weather) unless they have a very good reason to do so. Boat people are funny people and you have to be one to get them and enjoy their quirks. For example, to get to the sailboat we were interested in, we had to walk for 5 minutes on a dock lined with white warehouses where powerboats were docked for the winter. They were more like little houses, personalized by owners to greet guests. Illustration.

Last week, near Point Defiance, Tacoma, WA
(American Frog Photography)
Junior thinks: "Think sun. Think sun!"

Cute, in a quirky kind of way.

We will not be buying that boat either, but she was lovely, and perfectly maintained. We treated ourselves to a delicious lunch at Anthony's Homeport before starting the long drive back. 

The following day, my friend (and French student) Kaydee called last minute and offered to take me to the Seattle Dog Show and then out to lunch for a birthday celebration. I could not believe my luck. First boats, then dogs? Life was decidedly good!

Last minute plans often turn out to be the best plans. This little outing was no exception. The dog show (my first!) was even more fun than I had expected. Like boaters, dog people have their own rules, codes, and quirks. I got a good peek for a few hours, and it was fascinating, but my favorite part was when we spent time with the Rescue groups, and the Breed-specific Clubs where owners and volunteers let us play with the dogs and pet them as long as we wanted. My faithful readers won't be surprised when I write this French Girl was in Heaven!

The main floor where fancy dogs compete with their fancy owners

We learned some great tips. Who knew Dobermen love bananas? Want to get a Doberman's attention? Bring a banana (a very useful tip for house burglars, no doubt.) 

Step 1: Show banana

Step 2: Voilà! Two attentive and subdued Dobermen

Kaydee is a big fan of large breeds and has owned many. We both loved this young man, a Newfoundland puppy. He was very well behaved, but I was fascinated with the size of his paws. I owned a Newfie mix once. What exceptional dogs they are!

We spent the longest time at the French Bulldog booth. I have known for years there is a Frenchie in my future. Some people find them ugly. I am drawn to their comical faces, their playful, sweet personalities... and their body language. I can honestly say I have never, ever held a dog who goes... dead in your arms the minute you pick him up. If a dog can purr, then surely, it is the Frenchie. Being held by a human is the ultimate reward to this little clown and he will spare no effort to reach his goal. 

It may or may not be a good thing:
Frenchies are "in" right now. 
Can I kiss you, please?
Kaydee, melting away...
French Girl and her new friend...
Black Frenchie: "I made it! She picked me, ME!!!"
Cream Frenchie: "Nooooo... Pick me, MEEEEE!!!

The only reason Kaydee and I managed to pull ourselves away from our new friends at the Dog Show: We were starving. Downtown Seattle was five minutes away. The sun came out as we drove by several Seattle landmarks, until we reached our final destination: Café Campagne, near Pike Place Market.

Bonjour, Puget Sound!
Bonjour, Pioneer Square!

Bonjour weird-looking dude at the Seattle Art Museum!

Café Campagne is a favorite brunch place. Sitting there on a Sunday *almost* feels like being in Paris. I always order the same dish there: Les oeufs meurette (poached eggs in a red wine sauce.) They do not photograph well at all, so I will spare you and show our celebratory drink instead... Kir Royal, bien sûr!

Joyeux Anniversaire, French Girl!

Once you are chez Campagne and have made it all the way to Seattle, crossing two lakes and leaving the boonies behind, you have to go for a walk around Pike Place Market! The Market is always a good idea. It never changes much: Colorful stalls; fresh produce; crowds; flying fish... 

Kaydee and I were so determined to play tourists that we even tried to take a picture of Rachel, Pike Place Market's famous pig. A giant piggy bank, she has been collecting visitors' money since 1986. Unfortunately, something happened to the dang camera, and the photo of French Girl impersonating a Cowgirl on a pig's back turned out like this... 

What do you mean: "It must be the Kir Royal?!" Kaydee and I were a.b.s.o.l.u.t.e.l.y. not tipsy that afternoon, no siree!

Have I mentioned all the great shops near the market?

Nobody gets this happy eating peanut butter fudge!
Kir Royal, anyone?

What a great way to celebrate my birthday! Merci, Kaydee, mon amie!

As could be expected with any birthday celebration, there were gifts too. All week long, mysterious packages sent by French relatives and friends kept trickling in: There was that great book by former Chanel model and style icon Inès de la Fressange. The latest French movies in DVD. Some French sweets from a favorite Parisian store, Fauchon (the local Dean and Deluca.) French magazines, of course. Ah. Quel bonheur

Les Boys spoiled me with a new Nook Tablet. I had always sworn I would never read books on a device. Well, forget it. I love Le Nook. It has become my new best friend. I have already started building my spring/summer reading list while following suggestions from local and blogger friends. 

Gourmet chocolate and salted caramels from Fauchon

My new B.F.F: Le Nook

Cards. Lots of cards. Love greeting cards. For some reason, mine often feature dogs... and Eiffel Towers. Go figure. 

I was already feeling deliciously pampered and spoiled, but there was more to come. 

On Saint Patrick's Day, we joined some of the Usual Suspects for a soggy "Shamrock Run," in a favorite local town, Kirkland. We walked (fast!) We laughed. We admired other participant's outfits, all the while taking in panoramic views of Lake Washington. We got a lot of attention because we had a green dog walking with us. Some of us enjoy painting our dogs, you see! To stay warm and dry, we headed to the Celtic Bayou, a local pub, for some Irish food and drinks... and the day was still young! 

Check out the "green dog!"
(American Frog Photography)

(American Frog Photography)
(American Frog Photography)
A lively group! 
(American Frog Photography)

Later on, girlfriends joined me for a special screening of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, complete with delicious food, laughs, and Champagne, bien sur. When you are a French Girl living in America, guests - in an effort to cheer you up should you feel the occasional pang of homesickness -  tend to get you a lot of French-themed gifts. Over the years, I have built quite the collection: Chez moi, if you open cabinet doors or look closely at knick-knacks, you will spot Eiffel Towers, Fleur-de-Lys, and a variety of French signs. I am grateful to Woody and the film cast for providing the perfect excuse to dust off my French memorabilia! 

Did I mention I have crafty, creative friends?

And so Veroni-kkah goes on. is not over quite yet. There will be more fun in the days to come. I am told one event involves une limousine (a stretch limo.)

Meanwhile, spring is here - or so the calendar says. It is hard to tell, because it snowed again this morning. Brrrrrr... Stay warm. Stay dry. Stay happy. And wherever you may be, celebrate. 

A bientôt.

(American Frog Photography)

Photos by American Frog Photography and French Girl in Seattle.
Please do not use without permission.

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The Negresco, Nice: The Museum-Hotel (French icons series)

Bonjour les amis!

Do I have a good story for you today! We are off to la glorieuse Côte d'Azur, the French Riviera, as Americans call it. I am so happy to return to a favorite city of mine - and you know how much I love my cities! 

When I was younger, I dreamed for years of running a famous hotel. The funny thing is that my family did not stay in hotels very often. Like many French people, we traveled around France and enjoyed the hospitality of relatives and friends. The hotels my father picked, usually in Spain in the summer, were simple, two-star affairs at best. Years later, business travel enabled me to stay in larger and fancier hotels. Even then, the company's travel department would often go for chain-owned (read "anonymous") properties, over boutique or historical hotels. Dommage...

I never attended the prestigious French hotel and tourism management school I had my eyes on for a while. Life happened, and I followed a different path. But I did not forget. I still find famous hotels and palaces fascinating, and while I can't always afford to spend a night there, revisiting the legends, the dreams, the scandals, I make sure I stop by for an hour or two, for une coupe (de Champagne, bien sûr,) a cappuccino, or a leisurely lunch. Once there, I remember the stories I've heard; the books I've read; the movies I've seen - and I savor it all...

Hemingway Bar,  the Ritz Paris (December 2010)

How I love my cities, and the palaces they shelter. The Waldorf Astoria, New York. The Ritz Paris. The Danieli, Venice. Given a choice, I would pick a weekend at one of these prestigious addresses, over a whole week in many of the secluded and luxurious "spa" hotels in California or Arizona. Call me bizarre. C'est moi, la bizarre French Girl!

Few hotels in France and in Europe can rival the 5-star Negresco hotel in Nice. It opened on January 8, 1913. Its sparkling white façade and pink dome have been watching over la Baie des Anges (the Bay of Angels) since. 

(courtesy of the Negresco website)

What a story this is. Wild dreams. Drama. Two world wars. A charismatic and legendary owner. Dogs. Prestigious guests. The Negresco has it all. It is my pleasure to bring you along for a visit today. 

It all started when a young immigrant named Henri Negrescou (1868-1920,) the son of a Romanian innkeeper, arrived in France where he promptly built a career in the hospitality industry, in Paris, Monaco, and Nice; managing prestigious restaurants, while building relationships with powerful American and European businessmen. The Romanian entrepreneur - renamed Negresco along the way - decided to build a palace for his favorite clients who acted as investors. He purchased a piece of land on Nice's waterfront and hired well known architect, Edouard Niermans. Nothing was too grand for the future Negresco hotel: Gustave Eiffel, the renowned French engineer, built an impressive glass and steel dome inside the hotel's Salon Royal.

Le Salon Royal, Negresco hotel
(courtesy of the Negresco website)
Eiffel's dome and the Baccarat chandelier, Salon Royal
(courtesy of the Negresco website)

The Negresco opened in January 1913 to widespread international acclaim. The Who's Who of the Old and the New world, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbildts, kings and queens, politicians, rushed to the Negresco to enjoy the finest modern amenities and the happy go lucky days of the Edwardian Era .

(Courtesy of the Negresco website)

Henri Negresco had achieved his most ambitious dream and had become a wealthy man. But within a year, World War I had started. He offered his hotel as a temporary military hospital, investing a large part of his fortune to provide extra beds for soldiers. By the end of the war, he was ruined and died of cancer in 1920, at the age of 52.

While the Negresco remained open over the next thirty years, eventually owned by a Belgian company, it lost most of its past luster. It survived a second World War, but it did not reclaim its status as "the most sumptuous of all palaces" until the 1960s. 

In 1957, a local businessman, Monsieur Mesnage, purchased the run-down property and entrusted it to his only child, his daughter Jeanne, who had recently married a local lawyer and politician, Paul Augier. The legend says the Negresco was the only building in Nice whose spacious elevators could accommodate Monsieur Mesnage's crippled wife (the victim of an unsuccessful back surgery, she could not leave her bed.) 

Jean-Baptiste Menage, who rescued the Negresco
(Courtesy of the Negresco website)

That year, the Negresco became a privately-owned hotel. Under Jeanne Augier's dedicated and firm leadership, it has remained so for the last 55 years (a rarity, in today's competitive luxury hotel business.) 

A dedicated owner: Jeanne Augier
(photo: Nice Matin)

What Jeanne and Paul Augier achieved over the next thirty years is nothing short of extraordinary. They could have been happy with their prestigious guest list, the envy of many other properties along the French Riviera. From the 1960s on, the Negresco became the proverbial place "to see and to be seen." The Augier couple were ambitious: They decided early on that the Negresco has to be more than a palace and turned the hotel into a showcase of French art and French culture. The Augiers hunted down and purchased an invaluable art collection; paintings, antique furniture, objets d'art, all displayed prominently inside the hotel. Today, rare portraits of French kings rub shoulders with an opulent chandelier (with glass work by Baccarat,) one of two commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II (the other one is inside the Kremlin.) Works by contemporary artists (Moretti, Dali, Niki de Saint-Phalle) delight visitors and art lovers.

Jeanne Augier and Salvador Dali in the 1960s
(photographer unknown)
(Courtesy of the Negresco hotel)
The Negresco - Lobby
(Courtesy of the Negresco website) 
Miles Davis statue by Niki de St. Phalle
(photographer unknown)

The Augiers' efforts were rewarded in 2003, when the Negresco became a National Historic Monument of France.  

Paul Augier passed away in 1995. The formidable Jeanne Augier did not slow down and acted as owner and chairman, supervising the daily life of the hotel, often interacting with guests and her 260 employees. 

Today, the Negresco is home to the Michelin Guide award-winning restaurant, the Chantecler. Less formal, the bistro La Rotonde is outfitted in Pompadour Carrousel decor. I was fortunate to spend some time there last summer. A friendly waiter spoke very respectfully of the Negresco's owner, and offered to take me on a tour of the main floor before I left. I could feel the pride in his voice as he pointed at paintings and objets d'art around the Salon Royal. 

(Courtesy of the Negresco website)
La Rotonde bistro
(Courtesy of the Negresco website)

To prepare for the hotel's 100th anniversary in 2012, Jeanne Augier oversaw a costly 18-month renovation in 2009-2010. The façade, the lobby, Eiffel's glass dome, the Salon Royal and the Rotonde bistro were all updated and lovingly restored by skilled French craftsmen. Suites and rooms on the 5th floor, renamed "Executive floor," were entirely remodeled, all beautifully appointed and reflecting different artistic movements in French history. The Executive floor also got its own private access and exclusive concierge services. 

Life is good on the Negresco's Executive floor!
(Courtesy of the Negresco website)

Jeanne Augier's expertise and dedication are renowned the world over. Acting as a consultant, she once helped build palace hotels in Russia and Iran (at Nikita Khrouchtchev and the Shah of Iran's pressing requests,) in Africa, Canada and the United States. 

But these days, 89-year old Jeanne Augier has other things on her mind. The widow and her husband never had any children. Her children, she claims, are her employees and her pets. Madame Augier, you see, has always been an animal lover, and the Negresco is a pet-friendly hotel.

Carmen, the Negresco's in-house cat

Even if dogs are not really allowed on the Negresco's furniture,
what a great shot!

(courtesy of the Negresco website)
Jeanne Augier and one of her "children"
(Nice Matin)
Eccentric Jeanne Augier surprised everyone in 2009 when she announced the creation of a foundation supporting animal rights and homeless people. After her death, the hotel ownership, profits, and all of her estate will go directly to the foundation. 

Eccentric? Clever and determined is more like it. By bequeathing her fortune and assets to the new foundation, Jeanne Augier ensured that while helping people and animals in need, she would also keep together her staff ("her children,") and prevent her beloved Negresco from falling into the hands of international hotel chains. A privately-owned hotel the Negresco has been for 55 years, and a privately-owned hotel it will remain. Madame Augier, the "Iron Lady," has made sure of that. 

She still lives in a private apartment on the top floor of the hotel and enjoys chatting with her staff and guests. She has lunch every day at the Chantecler restaurant. Running the Negresco has been a labor of love and a tour de force, but I bet she does not regret a minute of it. About her hotel, she proudly declared, "Everything is authentic. Nothing is fake. I want this hotel to keep its soul and remain French-owned."

Steeped in French history and heritage, the Negresco offers, if nothing else, good, old-fashioned charm and elegance, and to people like me, good, old-fashioned fun. 

(Courtesy of the Negresco website)
(unknown photographer)

A bientôt.

If you speak French, meet Jeanne Augier, the Negresco's "Iron Lady," in this short segment. The outspoken Mrs Augier answers her critics after she founded the Negresco's Foundation in 2009. 


Read French Girl in Seattle's August 2011 Nice travelogue here.
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