Sunday, August 25, 2013

Scenes from a Mall

Cher (Alicia Silverstone,) doing what she does best
Clueless (1995)

I went to the mall today. I don't like malls.

I find them claustrophobic, and predictable. Same store chains. Same food outlets. People everywhere. Even worse at Christmas time. Special sales every two weeks. Then why call them special?

Beam my up, Scotty!
(photographer unknown)

I stay away from malls as much as I can. When I need clothes, I shop online. 

Here in Seattle, most malls are indoor malls. I am sure you can figure out why. When malls are outdoors, umbrellas are available for shoppers to use. Try that in Paris, and Pouf! The umbrellas would be gone in less than a day. Ah, Paris.

Such a treat when those yellow thingies are not needed!

Over the last thirty years, I have lived in several American cities. In the 1980s, as a wide-eyed freshman in Atlanta, Ga., I was fascinated to see my roommates dress up just to go to the mall. The [big] hair. The make up. These Southern girls went all out to visit the Gap and Banana Republic (Remember the safari-themed and travel clothing?) 

Fast forward a few years. Big culture shock when I moved to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1990s. In fleece country, things are more laid-back. One of the most respected local clothing brand is Eddie Bauer. 'Nuff said.

A favorite movie of mine - even if most people did not seem to enjoy it much when it came out in the 1990s - Scenes from a Mall, with Woody Allen and Bette Midler. As an affluent L.A. businessman, Woody sports a ridiculous ponytail and carries around a surf board. The story is set in a crowded shopping mall at Christmas time. The neurotic husband and wife, who are hosting their 16th wedding anniversary that evening, are supposed to run errands. Instead, they bicker; separate; reunite... It is funny, chatty movie, but it also offers a harsh look at the American lifestyle. Malls have never looked quite the same to me since. And I always crack a smile when I spot a sushi restaurant at the local shopping center (watch the show to know why...) 

"Rats. We need to get more sushi!"

Many teen movies take place in malls. Clueless, with the lovely Alicia Silverstone, is one of them. Cher, her character, makes indulging in consumerism look elegant, and cool. When I go to the mall, I see Cher Mini-Me's everywhere I turn. No more padded shoulders. No more high-waisted jeans. Yet, here they are. Cher Wannabes. Shopping with Mom, or with their best friends.

Nice job, Cher.

"Let's go shopping: I have nothing to wear!" 

Today, I had a few hours to kill. The weather was decent (It has been a beautiful summer in Seattle, folks.) I took a long walk with the Yellow Dog, and decided I wanted to spend more time outdoors. So I went to the mall. Logique, non?

It is called University Village. It is an urban mall: You know you have left suburbia and are somewhere in Seattle when you park your car. That makes it ok in my book. The University of Washington and the Husky Stadium are minutes away. But I am not a college student anymore, and I don't care for football (I know, the horror!) This means I can focus on the many boutiques welcoming an eclectic crowd of Seattleites, suburbanites, and out-of-town visitors.

I must say there is something special about University Village. It does not feel claustrophobic. It is pretty. And there are a handful of interesting boutiques, and among the many national chains (yawn!) a few local retailers. 

First, I walked through the lovely Ravenna Gardens.

That chair has my name on it!

The website makes it clear: The store caters to the urban gardener. I aspire to become an urban gardener one day. In fact, I could move into Ravenna Gardens right now. I even spotted a really cool place for my bed, tucked away behind small statues, inspirational signs and a babbling fountain. Ah, quel pied! Heaven, quoi!  

A creative display of Fermob garden furniture (Made in France, bien sûr!) 

Urban gardeners spend less time weeding than suburban gardeners.
As a result, they have more time to meditate...

When I left Ravenna Gardens, I felt refreshed, relaxed... and ready for some shopping. But most stores I passed on the way did not inspire me. J. Crew (or the art of charging a year's worth of [American] college tuition for camo clothing you could find for a few dollars at the local army surplus store.) Lucy, and fancy Lulu Lemon (or the art of making the average woman look and feel fit in fancy yoga wear, even if her daily exercise routine is limited to stepping in and out of the shower.) Ann Taylor. Banana Republic. Tiffany's (but the only women staring at the window displays are not named Audrey and wear LuluLemon lycra pants.) And so on.

Finally, I stepped into a larger store, a place with potential. It is more than a store. It is an experience... There is French music playing in the background (Brigitte Bardot, no less!) There are comfortable spaces where customers (guests?) linger.

They call this a fitting room... It looks better than most people's living rooms!

Stop by for a minute, an hour, or a lifetime...

Mesdames et Messieurs, bienvenue chez Anthropologie!

I just know that chain has an interesting story. If you have heard it, feel free to share it in the comment section! 

It must be the French native in me that responds to the aesthetics appeal of the colorful, surprising store. Creative displays and props. Unique merchandise (or so it seems...) Anyone can find a little something at Anthropologie


Ah, oui, I know. Ridiculous prices. Very true. Well, you can always look (or even touch,) and then go home - as I did - with a fragrant candle. Or a cabinet door knob. Anthropologie has the most interesting cabinet door knobs I have seen in any hardware store. And at $10 a pop, most people save up for a year to equip their entire kitchen.

There's fabulous clothing, bien sûr. I guarantee you will feel unique wearing one of their pieces. 


There are books (and the Anthropologie buyer has excellent taste, if I may say so myself...) 

I spotted Jane Austen and Emilie Brontoe classics...
perfectly coordinated with notebooks and soap bars...

Yes,  you have read this book at least 50 times.
It is really the SAME book. They just keep changing the author's name and title!

There is colorful kitchen ware...

Bols français
... and American mugs.

To sum it all up, Anthropologie is so good, so pretty and so clever, that they even make the most mundane chores look irresistible!

Sexy brooms and dish towels, by Anthropologie 
I might start baking if someone gets me one of these...

I am positive even my favorite Ann Taintor characters would approve...

(Ann Taintor) 
(Ann Taintor) 

I will be honest. I spent at least an hour chez Anthropologie. That is how long it took to check out every rack of clothing; every knick-knack; smell every candle; close my mouth again every time my jaw dropped when I looked at a price tag; and finally check out with my little gift. 

Good times.

So maybe I do like the American mall after all. Un petit peu

A bientôt.

All photos by French Girl in Seattle.
Do not copy, re-use or pin without permission.
Thank you to my friends at Ravenna Gardens and Anthropologie 
for providing inspiration for this week's story.
Thank you Anne Taintor. You never fail to make me smile.

Urban Gardener wisdom
chez Ravenna Gardens

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mon ami Harry Potter


Fact 1: I am, indeed, a lucky French Girl. A heartfelt "merci" to all of you, for the messages you sent following last week's story.

Fact 2: If you do not like/get/care to hear about... the magical world of Harry Potter, skip this story. It is choke full of references and private jokes seulement pour les initiés... 

Fact 3: This is intended to be a joyful post. Hope you enjoy it as much as I have! I already know I will use Hermione's time-turner to return here, over and over again. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows release (part 1)

Last week, I wrote about my friends, and the important part they play in my life.

Today, I would like to talk about other friends... fictional friends, but friends nonetheless. 

Like many young children and adolescents, I was once a voracious reader. I had many heroes, who kept me company and cheered me on (or so it seemed,) as I navigated the challenges of that great adventure we call Life.

I was very surprised years ago, when a story told by an English woman captured my [adult] heart and my imagination, the way it had captured the heart of millions of people around the world. It still does today, fourteen years after the first book was published.

Junior's [elaborate] 6th birthday party:
Young wizards find their wands in Diagon Alley...

Harry Potter. Seven books. Eight movies. The most successful movie franchise of all time. A dedicated amusement park in Orlando, FL. The Warner Bros. Harry Potter movie studios tour in London, UK. Millions of fans, les Potterphiles.

Maman et Junior about to board the Hogwarts Express
Harry Potter World, Universal Studios, Orlando, FL
Summer 2010

Everything and anything has been written about the young wizard's saga. This is no reason for me not to pay a tribute to the wonderful characters who have lived with me for so many years; have turned my son into another voracious reader; have enabled me to share countless hours of fun and silliness with my friends (and does it ever feel great to be silly in this serious, depressing world!)

2010: A black car (witch?) is christened "Tonks"
A young 4th grader celebrates reading all the books in the series

This is my modest, but heartfelt tribute to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest of the gang. It is not based on scientific research. The opinions expressed here are mine only. 

Harry Potter is like Nutella. You either love it, or you don't. Those who get it know all the details, and all the characters in the story. They have passionate discussions and arguments about the plot or the characters' deeper motives. Those who don't ("I could not go past the first two books... I did not care for the movies...") shake their heads at Potterphiles and shrug it all off. 

Les pauvres. I am genuinely sad for the Muggles who have not been properly exposed to this wonderful story. They do not know what they are missing.

Even the Duchess of Cambridge is a fan.
Do you think she will read Harry's adventures to young Prince George in a few years?

The story started years ago with three young wizards, in a book written by a struggling single mom, who was about to live her own Cinderella story. Harry Potter soon developed a faithful following. Later, thanks to an inspired casting director, and the magic of the big screen, the young wizards became famous the world over. Like me, like Junior, millions of people adopted Harry, Ron, and Hermione. From this...

About to become famous, and very, very wealthy:
Hermione (Emma Watson,) Harry (Daniel Radcliffe,) Ron (Rupert Grint)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)

... to this...

Three [still young] actors, impersonating their 40-year old characters
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2 (2011)

A literary and cinematic legend was born. Thank goodness.

My favorite thing about the Harry Potter saga? It is always entertaining and exhilarating; keeps you guessing and dreaming; and - never condescending - tackles some great Life themes: Love, friendship, family, courage, loss and resiliency. Everyone can relate. 

I will always be grateful to J.K. Rowling for inspiring some of the most interesting and in-depth conversations I have shared with my son after he read the books. Today, the young adolescent can be harder to talk to, and I cherish these memories. 

Everyone has a favorite character, or two, or three. Here are some of mine. Harry the orphan may experience loss during his formative years (more than a child should have to,) but he is fortunate to be surrounded by a motley crew of supportive, faithful friends, his family of choice.

Dobbie, the free elf.
Drives you crazy, and often gets you in trouble,
but he will give his life for you if he has to.
Hagrid, the semi-giant...
because everyone needs a sensitive, bear hug-loving friend
Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis,) the other orphan.
The hero with a noble heart nobody (not even Lord Voldermort) saw coming...

When Neville the underdog gets mad...
One of the most satisfying moments in the last installment.

I confess to a soft spot for the next gentleman. I liked his character in the books and suspected there was more to Professor Snape than met the eye. I liked him even better when talented Alan Rickman became Harry's foe in the movie series. Rickman, like so many classically-trained actors in the saga, was perfectly cast and added depth and complexity to a tragic character. I cried when Snape died. I cried again when Harry discovered who Snape really was. 

As a side note, I consider myself very privileged to have met Professor Snape in person.

This one lives in my neck of the woods (and I don't think he drinks butterbeer...) 

So many characters. So many favorites. It is tempting to continue listing them, but I won't. Instead, I would like to share my most recent adventure in the world of Harry Potter.

Warning: Lots of photos coming up. For fans' and wizard eyes only! 

This summer, while I was vacationing in England, I embarked on a double-decker bus and went on a field trip to the Warner Bros. movie studios north of London. Let me make something clear: This is a must-see tour even if you are not a fan of the series. If you are interested in the movie-making process, don't hesitate.

Imagine a group of buildings, in the middle of nowhere. This is where most of the Harry Potter movies were shot over the course of ten years. The walking tour takes visitors behind-the-scenes, as many secrets about film making are revealed. Two indoor and one outdoor lots kept me busy for at least three hours. Then I had to stop by the well-stocked (and overpriced) gift store-- a Potterphile dream!

The most surprising thing during the visit is probably the sheer size of the sets. I found myself immersed in the Harry Potter world. I had a real case of déjà vu, and for good reason: They were exactly the ones featured on the big screen for ten years. 

The cupboard under the stairs... 
I walked the Great Hall of Hogwarts! 
Gryffindor Common Room: So many details! 
The Potions Classroom: Once again, details, details! 
Inside the Burrows: I watched Molly Weasley's sweater "knit" itself...
Dolores Umbridge's office (complete with animated Kitty plates)

How about a walk up Diagon Alley? Only Hagrid was missing...

17,000 wand boxes inside Olivander's are hand-labeled.
The 4,000 people who worked on the movies for 10 years are mentioned on some of them

The outdoor sets weren't forgotten...

Is Butterbeer allowed on the Knight bus?
A peaceful little street... not!

It was artifact and prop galore! I did not know where to look. I did not know what to capture with my faithful Lumix LX5. It was overwhelming. 

The moving marble staircase... They actually built a full-size one!
The Chamber of Secrets door... I almost expected the snakes to start sliding around... 
Recognize this? (and to the right, the hidden entrance to Dumbledore's office)
I remember all the scenes shot on this bridge at Hogwarts, don't you? 
Beaucoup de props!
The Yule Ball ice structure

The tour reflects the high degree of professionalism and attention to detail that helped make the Harry Potter films into the most successful movie franchise ever. It was as if Warner Bros had wanted to thank all the fans for their support over the years. Visitors are allowed to look at everything; and try everything (including a broom flying lesson - Let me just say I will never look at a Quidditch match the same way ever again.) There were signs and placards all over the lots to explain and detail the process of film making. I was fascinated. 

Interesting facts about the animal actors... 
Five different dogs played Fang. Who knew?

La pièce de résistance, at the end of the tour: a giant, 1/24 scale model of Hogwarts. It took over 50 sculptors, painters and other artists to build, and was used for many outdoor shots of the castle. It stands in the dark, in the middle of a large room, lit up by 300 fiber optic lights. Perfectly hand-sculpted to scale. Impressive... and magical. It was the perfect way to wrap up this memorable visit. 

I will leave le mot de la fin (the final word) to Jo Rowling and Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.  

Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, 
but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” 

-- Professor Albus Dumbledore

A bientôt.