Sunday, July 29, 2012

Stuck on a boat during the Roaring Twenties (Cruise log #2)

Bonjour les amis,

This French Girl is alive, and well. 

My boys and I have just wrapped up our first week of happy sailing in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. We left American waters on Thursday and entered the quaint and scenic Canadian Gulf islands.

The Gulf Islands: So far, we have stopped on Pender, Galiano, and Thetis islands.

How quaint are the Gulf Islands? Let me fill you in. 

We have left city life and le plancher des vaches (terra firma) behind. Nature is everywhere around us; evergreens, and the magnificent Madrona trees mostly found on the West Coast of the United States and in British Columbia; peaceful bays, where anchored powerboats ("stink pots") and sailboats of all sizes coexist peacefully, bobbing along in the breeze; pretty beaches where kids play on the local "sand" (pale crushed seashells;) shaded trails where deer can be spotted on a daily basis... 

The Bench and the Madrona tree
Telegraph Harbor, Thetis island, BC

And then there are the marinas, where we have reservations, a necessity during peak season. Ah, marinas. You know you have entered Canada, when "restrooms" become "washrooms," "soda" becomes "pop," and dollar coins are named "Loonies" - or is it "Toonies?" I keep getting them confused, and that is a big deal because you need handfuls to get just about anything done: showers, laundry, etc. I am getting concerned a local will eventually hand me a giant rabbit or a black cat, the next time I take out a 10 dollar bill and ask for change!

This is all your fault, Looney Tunes!

Anchoring out solves the problem for a while, but then again we still have to go ashore, and the story repeats itself. I have been doing mental exercises. On my way to the marina office, I remind myself: "Loonies... Loonies... Loonies... Oh, what a nice dog... Toonies... Merde. LOONIES. LOONIES. How hard can it be?!"

Oh well.

Everyone is so nice here, and so helpful. When a boater gets in trouble, and his vessel is pushed sideways by strong winds while docking, neighbors rush to give a hand. People sit on docks and chat; tell you their life stories; introduce their kids and dogs. They help you forget that sometimes, taking a simple shower involves a huge leap of faith... The environment can be rustic. Water supply is limited. On occasion, an island can't offer shower, laundry facilities, or garbage disposal. Even dog poop has to be picked up by the dog owner and taken away with the rest of the trash. Imagine Parisian chien owners dealing with this type of arrangement [insert hysterical laughter.]

"The washroom"
Wait: Didn't I see this shack in the movie "Deliverance"?! 

Life is simple. Our days are spent traveling, and we enjoy the many adventures offered by a life at sea. We make new friends, furry or human. We read a lot. More about that later... We explore. We take pictures. The boys are creative and they hardly sit down. Sometimes, there is drama. While underway, when the wind dies down, and we have to turn the engine back on (putt-putt-putt...) we listen to the VHF on Pardon my French. Some of the real life stories unfolding on Channel 16, the emergency channel, beat any soap or reality show on TV. Anyone in the boating community can empathize with the emergency situations some fellow travelers unwillingly get themselves into. 

On Friday, on our way to Galiano Island, we were caught in a small craft advisory.  While the husband expertly steered the sailboat, in the cockpit, Junior and I were glued to the VHF and followed a crisis en direct (live.) A man lost steerage on a 42-foot powerboat in the middle of heavy swells, and called for help. The Victoria, B.C. coast guards responded immediately, and did a great job at coordinating a rescue effort, enlisting other boaters to locate the boater in distress, until the emergency services showed up and started towing him and his crew (an old dog.) 

Yes, there can be drama, and comedy too. on Friday afternoon, a local yacht club anchored out in the middle of Montague harbor. It was a sight to behold: Fifteen yachts, all tied up together, in a "circle the wagon" formation. That evening, the merry (power) boaters, a cheerful crowd, decided to celebrate "l'apéritif" in style and organized a karaoke party on a loud speaker. The boaters' inebriated voices and Beach Boys music echoed across the bay until sunset. Finally, our neighbor on the dock - a sailor - could not take it anymore. He grabbed his fog horn (these things are VERY loud in case you don't know,) and blasted it several times, pointing it at the boat formation in the harbor, fuming. 

"The Culprits" in Montague harbor
"I set these guys straight, dang it!," says the old sailor, holding his fog horn

That is when Le Husband joined in the fun. [What camp was he rooting for? We will never know...] He turned on the sailboat's loud-hailer and started singing too! Pretty soon, boats anchored in the bay followed suit, and for the next twenty minutes, you could not hear yourself think: Fog horns were blasting all over the once peaceful harbor! It was July 4th without the fireworks! Fun times. 

When we are not making total derrières of ourselves to entertain friendly British Columbia, I read. A lot. Before we left, I downloaded a few novels into my beloved Nook tablet. Some of these books had been waiting for weeks, ignored, on my bedside table. The cruise would be my chance, I surmised, to catch up on my reading. Did I ever. Problem is: I got stuck in a time warp. The Roaring Twenties to be precise. 

It all started with this book, a popular selection for book clubs all over America a few months ago. 

The book started slowly, but I got hooked on the story of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage, and his early years as a young writer, husband and father in 1920s Paris (I kept thinking of the excellent Hemingway impersonation by Corey Stoll, in the charming Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris.) If you have read the book, you know the story is mostly told through his first wife Hadley's eyes. 

Once I was finished, it only seemed natural to hear Hemingway's version of the events that unfolded in Paris as he struggled to make it as a writer. During these formative years, he met and befriended other expatriates, artists and intellectuals, Gertrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, to name just a few. As soon as I could get a decent WiFi connection (a feat in some marinas,) I downloaded A Moveable Feast, published posthumously after his suicide. 

A favorite passage from that iconic collection of Paris vignettes focuses on Hemingway's friendship with Francis Scott Fitzgerald. One story in particular drew my attention and made me smile often: a road trip both men embarked on from Lyon to Paris, and the drama that ensued. 

This got me thinking I had not read old Fitzgerald since college, and off I went. Seconds later, I had downloaded the next book in my ever-growing list...

Once again, I became engrossed in Jay Gatsby's tragic story, and the novel only took a few days to read. 

I did not know it, but the Roaring Twenties were not finished with me quite yet. As I was catching up on my blog reading a few days ago, thanks to an accommodating - and much appreciated - WiFi connection, I found a glowing review for another book, Laura Moriarty's the Chaperone. I had to get my hands on it. I was not disappointed, and devoured the story of the woman who chaperoned a young Louise Brooks (the future silent-movie star and fashion icon,) to New York city in the summer of 1922. A quick read, the novel is still a page turner, and I dare anyone to put it down after the first two chapters. It seemed I was doomed... I was going to be stuck in the 1920s for the rest of the trip. Hadn't I just been reminded of Louise Brooks' autobiography, Lulu in Hollywood, at the end of Le Chaperone?

Louise B. and the most perfect "Bob" ever to grace a feminine face
(photographer unknown)

Something had to be done. When I started calling Le Husband  "old sport" (à la Jay Gatsby,) he took matters in his own hands: He walked up to the  marina store, and there, on one of the five dusty shelves, between canned corn, toothpaste, and paper towels, he found this little book. "Voilà," he said proudly when he returned to the boat (I was standing in front of the mirror, trying to style my hair like Louise's - a lost cause...) "A small gift for you. This book is autobiographical, and the woman just wrote it. She lives on a boat somewhere on the Coast. You will like it."

I opened it and read the first page. I did like it. Thank you, husband. For the next few days at least, Ernest, Scott, Jay Gatsby and Louise Brooks will let me return to the year 2012. Well, that's the plan, n'est-ce-pas? Tell you what: Why don't I download Lulu in Hollywood right now while I still have decent WiFi... just in case? 

A bientôt.

The Gulf Islands, B.C.:
land of glorious sunsets and stubborn WiFi connections...

Unless otherwise noted, all photos by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use without permission

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cruising the Pacific Northwest... rain or shine (Cruise Log #1)

 "Our home away from home!"
The name puzzles some people,
until they see the French flag attached to the mast...

Ahoy, Mateys!

We are off, floating about on the salty and frigid waters of the Pacific Northwest, a summer tradition for this family (and many others around us, judging from the number of boats docked at local marinas.) 

My faithful readers already know the crew (minus the Yellow Dog, who stayed home with a house guest.) I am happy to introduce our new sailboat, "Pardon my French." You may remember when we said goodbye to her predecessor, Mistral, in the spring. "Pardon my French" rocks. She is 20 years old, but you would not know it. Le Husband has spent many hours making her look good. She is his new mistress, one I approve of. We have enough room to store all our gear, and can finally go to bed without actually crawling in... Preparing for a three-week cruise was no small feat, as all of you with boats, RVs, vacation homes, realize. It took a few trips to the marina to bring it all on board.

Essentials... such as French wine...

We made it in time, though, and took off as planned on Saturday morning. The weather has been a bit off these past few days, chillier than normal, while the sun plays hide-and-seek with us (and the clouds.)

We will be gone for three weeks; dock or anchor out in quaint coves and harbors; shower on the boat or at local marinas (the campers among you know what a hurried and drafty experience that can be...) We will cook dinner on board often - grilling is always a popular option - and will make the most of restaurants we can walk to from the boat when we are too tired or too rained out to figure out what's left in the fridge. If we are lucky, we might be able to catch crab, served that evening with aioli and lemon. 

The weather may or may not cooperate. This is the Pacific Northwest, folks, not the Mediterranean. Today, in the charming town of Port Townsend, it was so damp and chilly everyone was wearing their finest fleece apparel and rain gear... 

Summer fashion in the Pacific Northwest - no kidding!

We will enjoy exploring; revisiting old favorites; or discovering new islands as we make our way North in Canadian waters. Nature will be everywhere around us, mesmerizing...

Port Ludlow, WA

Port Ludlow, WA
(American Frog Photography)

We will enjoy meeting the locals; the two and the four-legged ones...

Pirates everywhere: We are in good company!

There will be a lot of time for relaxing, reading or playing... 

Junior, practicing the "Vessel-Assist style docking"
(you don't know what it is? Neither did I until he showed me...) 

The crazy French skipper enjoying the best seat in the house!

My trusted sidekick [the Panasonic Lumix LX5] and I will spend hours shooting away: There are so many photo opportunities just a few feet away from the boat...

So far so good... well... except for that torrential downpour tonight (we survived, and I am typing this story comfortably tucked in bed, with the heater on...) 

Oh, and this morning, we had our first mutiny on board when our hard-headed dinghy (a French-made Zodiac,) decided to leave us and head South on its own. If the skipper had not spotted  the stubborn skiff, drifting away in the surf... 

It took ten minutes to capture the little rascal - a good opportunity to practice our "man overboard drill,"  as the male sailors reminded me...

- Dinghy: "Let me go. I REFUSE to go North. The sun is shining South!"
- Moi: "As if!"

We will be fine, and log in the [nautical] miles, until we return home, tanned [I brought spray on self-tanner - just in case] and rested. We are lucky, and we know it. Happy July, wherever you may be!

We feel safe: The Sea Gods and Captain Haddock are watching over us!

A bientôt.

All photos unless otherwise noted by French Girl in Seattle.
Please do not use without permission.

For Marie. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Collecting a new Award and trip planning...

Bonjour mes amis,

The week is off to a good start. 

After I dropped off Junior and a friend at sailing school earlier today, I read some of my favorite blogs (a daily routine when I can,) and was surprised - and très heureuse - to see my friend Katelyn, from Pure Panache, had sent a blogging Award my way. I give you... the Sunshine Award, for "bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere."

These delicious candied clementines from Nice's Florian confiserie
deserve the Sunshine Award, too!

First things, first... Merci beaucoup Katelyn! You have a knack for finding fun and unique objects and shops online, and then you share them with all of us! I think of you as my personal shopper, and if I ever decide to redecorate my house, your website will be one of my go-to resources. 

Second, merci, dear readers. I read each and every comment you leave on this blog (and do my best to reply when I am not traveling.) Thank you for your continued support, your enthusiasm, and most importantly, your friendship. I have finally figured out why I happily spend several hours a month blogging chez French Girl in Seattle: With a second year of blogging well underway, this uniquely creative endeavor has enabled me to justify spending time doing what I enjoy most in life these days... Traveling and exploring; sightseeing; people watching; taking photographs; and writing. Making friends all over the US (and the world,) and getting to meet some of you in person, has been the icing on the cake, or the proverbial "cerise sur le gâteau." 

Jilly, a new friend, in Menton
(her blogs are listed below)

Now, Awards may come with strings attached. The Sunshine Award is no exception: Several steps are involved. 

First, you must thank the person who sent it to you. I just did (see above.) 

Second, you must recognize 10 other bloggers who deserve the Award and link back to their websites. I am happy to name ten friends, old and new, who have positively and creatively inspired me since I started blogging. Please visit their sites when you get a chance. You will not regret it.

The photographers: This budding photographer is learning a lot from you and as an expat, is grateful for your daily captures of her homeland.

Virginia, from Paris through My Lens.
Genie, from Paris and Beyond.

The versatile bloggers. they snap away. They research. They write entertaining stories or poems... These guys can do it all:

Owen, aka "Mr Toad," from Magic Lantern Show.
Martine Alison (and Leo le Toucan,) from My DollHouse joue un grand air de peinture.
Natalie, from Jewel Yet to Find.
Peter, from Peter's Paris.
M-T, from the French Touch.

Third, the Sunshine Award recipient must answer 10 personal questions following a pre-set list. Now I had a problem with this one. I couldn't imagine that you might be interested in reading some of the answers in the pre-set list (favorite color? favorite flower? favorite number? etc.) So, being French, and - to be perfectly honest - pressed for time (see reason below,) I thought I would... ahem... bend the rules a bit. So, dear readers, here is my suggestion to you: If there is one thing you would like to know about this French Girl, or her blog, please feel free to ask in the comment section, and I will do my best to answer. Ca marche? How does that sound? 

Phew. Aren't you glad? I just saved you a very boring read about my Dulce de Leche ice cream/Handbag/HarryPotter/dog addiction!

Psssst! I've got a scoop for you: This French Girl loves dogs!
(photo by Jilly Bennett) 

For now, time to look ahead. I realize Junior and I have just returned from Europe, but by the end of the week, a great Northwest summer tradition will call us away from the house, once again: This family will take off for a long-awaited cruise on our sailboat. This trip will take us to Washington state's Olympic Peninsula, the San Juan and Gulf Islands before we return at the beginning of August. I know some of you will inquire about the pets: The Yellow Dog will not be joining us this time, but she and Felix the cat will be in good hands, and will stay home with a house guest. Oh, and should "the Bad Men" decide to return, they should know the house alarm is now activated at all times. Don't attempt it, F@#$%^%s, or you will get hurt!

For now, Le Husband has concocted a fun itinerary; I am in the process of stocking the boat pantry; and we can't wait to move on board with our gear/toys/electronics/Nutella/wine selection at the end of the week. I will try to stay in touch (I have been promised a WiFi connection for the duration of the trip,) but who knows what will happen? One thing is certain: I will be shooting away and will return with many photos of the Pacific Northwest in all of its estival splendor. Let us pray for sun, margaritas, fair winds and following seas. Happy summer, wherever you may be. 

A bientôt. 

Au revoir, Seattle!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Ten Steps to Enjoying Paris like a Parisian...

While I lived in Paris, many years ago, it seemed much of my time was spent 1. working 2. commuting to and from work (I knew the Parisian public transportation system inside out.) 3. Lining up to get into movie theaters or other popular places. 

We were in our late 20s then, and had few family responsibilities. Several times a week, evenings were reserved for relaxation, a good dinner with friends, or a movie. Saturday afternoons were perfect for running errands and "le lèche-vitrine," (window shopping.) Sunday lunches with relatives were [almost] sacred. In the afternoon, there would be time for some sightseeing, or a visit to a special exhibit. 

In the spring and fall, when days were longer and la grisaille (grey skies) finally lifted, we would indulge in occasional field trips on the coast. Seaside resorts such as Deauville and Trouville, or quaint towns like Honfleur were - and still are - très popular with Parisians. 

Honfleur (American Frog Photography)

While we were in Paris a few days ago, I looked around whenever we were "en ville" (downtown.) People watching has always been the cheapest - and my favorite - entertainment form in Paris. I looked at Parisians and saw them running around, looking down, jumping on and off packed cars in le Métro; munching on a "Crêpe complète" (a ham and cheese crêpe,) or a "jambon beurre" (butter and ham sandwich,) as they walked the streets at lunch time, looking at window displays... I realized things had not changed that much since we left. This used to be me. Paris is still one crazy, hurried place to live. 

But I also noticed that Parisians, as always, know how to appreciate their city. With what little time is available in their busy schedules, they love her, really look at her, and take the best she has to offer. Theirs is an enduring and passionate relationship, one that is often underestimated and misunderstood by the rest of France, where there has been a  lasting tradition of criticizing "ces fous de Parisiens!" (these crazy Parisians -- as in "They who are crazy enough to live in that stressed-out city!")

So, as a tribute to Paris, and the Parisians who really know and love her, voilà a few photos I took during our recent visit. I hope you enjoy them.

Enjoying Paris like a Parisian - The 10 steps.

Rule #1: Know your cafés and restaurants. Realize that sitting outside will cost more, but do it anyway, whenever possible.

Rule #2: Drop the iPhone. Respect the written word. Make time for your favorite newspaper, or a good book. 

Sports fans always start the day with "L'Equipe." 

Palais Royal 

Musée Carnavalet

Place des Vosges, le Marais

Rule #3: Pick a chair, or a bench (only tourists sit on the grass in public gardens.) Look around. Take a deep breath. Just be. 

Canal  St. Martin, near place de la République


Musée Carnavalet

Place des Vosges

Rule #4: Organized sports? B.o.r.i.n.g! Just keep moving, and walk, walk, walk!

Bagatelle Gardens


Le Marais

Palais Royal

... oh and do locate the ice cream truck. Les glaces, l'après-midi, c'est sacré (ice cream in the afternoon is sacred)!

Rule #5: Don't forget to bring le chien. He needs to exercise and eat too! Did you hear that story about Americans picking up after their pooch? Bizarre, non? 

Rule #6: Who needs a beach? Work on your tan. It's a fantastic accessory!

Quais de Seine. (

Rule #7: Visit museums. Tour exhibits. Take walking tours with local guides. Check out local artists. This is one amazing city!

Fête de la Musique, June 21, 2012

Atget exhibit, Musée Carnavalet

Louis Vuitton - Marc Jacobs exhibit
Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Rule #8: Open your eyes. Be curious.

American Frog Photography

Rule #9: Respect Paris and she will respect you.

Looking for the beach, dude?

Dang. Another snooty Parisian waiter!

Rule #10: Merde happens. Stay calm. Prove guidebooks wrong: Keep smiling. Don't feed the pigeons. Focus on that great chair/bench waiting for you, somewhere...

"Wednesday June 20. Opening hours: 2:00p.m.-7:00pm.
--- I will be back by 2:30pm!"

Santé, Paris! Cheers, Paris!

A bientôt.

All photos unless otherwise noted by French Girl in Seattle.
Please do not use without permission.