Friday, October 25, 2013

Mademoiselle Plume is back!

Bonjour ! 

This will be a short one. I just have an announcement that will not fail to brighten up your weekend: Mademoiselle Plume, the featherweight French jacket, is back!

"Who?," you ask. Mademoiselle Plume, of course. Don't you remember her? I introduced this chic Parisian girl to you in last fall's fashion post

Mademoiselle Plume and I had just met then.  A year later, she has become a trusted friend; an indispensable accessory; my favorite travel piece (thanks to her companion nylon pouch, she fits inside my carry-on bag;) the classiest, most comfortable, doudoune (puffer coat) I have ever tried on. 

"I don't do puffer coats!" some of you will exclaim. Maybe not, but you have not met Mademoiselle Plume yet... 

Be honest. Tell me: Does this cute, stylish jacket look puffy to you?

I love my 2012 limited edition Plume; her cheekiness; the way burgundy, purple and black blend seamlessly on the sleeves. The cute leather trim around the collar. Oh, and the jacket is reversible too, did I mention it? The black side is perfect to go out in the evening.

The bad news: This model is not available in stores anymore. Dommage.

The good news: Mademoiselle Plume is back this fall, with brand new colors (solid or not,) and a few subtle changes (the stitching, for example.) 

Same Mademoiselle Plume. Even better. And, at under $150, still affordable.

Le Comptoir des Cotonniers and Uniglo has done it again. More details here.

Mademoiselle Plume - Fall 2013 collection

The e-boutique only ships to European countries. Where do you find her? 

More good news headed your way: Le Comptoir des Cotonniers owns several boutiques in New York city. I am sure the sales staff would be happy to assist you and ship Mademoiselle Plume your way if you ask nicely.

So what are you waiting for? Christmas is around the corner (hint! hint!) 

And in case you wonder: No, I do not work for le Comptoir. I just like to share good things with my friends, that's all. 

Je vous en prie. You're welcome.

Before I wrap up this post and sit down with Junior for a fun movie-dinner date (Rebel without a Cause and pizza are on the menu tonight,) I have a special message for a truly special lady. 

The great Catherine Deneuve - "La Reine Catherine" - celebrated her 70th birthday this week. She has graced movie screens around the world for decades. Beautiful and flawless, her acting range and filmography are impressive. She has been the best ambassador France and French cinema could have dreamed of. Today, at 70, she remains "la Grande Catherine," and has a new movie out this month. 

Chapeau. Hats off.

Read the tribute the Huffington Post published this week, here

Joyeux Anniversaire, Madame Deneuve

Bon weekend. A bientôt.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Learning Italian with Rick Steves...

Ce weekend, j'ai eu une bonne idée. This weekend, I had a good idea...

On Saturday, I headed to the lovely town of Edmonds, WA for a visit to the Rick Steves' travel office. Not my first time. Not my last one either. I visit this wonderful facility several times a year, alone or with a friend. Where else can I hear people discuss their travels in Europe or watch them plan for upcoming trips? Where else can I have access to free Wifi, and an incredible selection of travel guides (Rick's and his competitors',) maps, and travel DVD's? Where else can I browse such an entertaining selection of travel bags, travel gear, and travel-oriented everything? Spending a couple of hours at Europe through the Back Door is the next best thing to... boarding a flight to Europe!

When I am finished there, Edmonds is waiting. And as Seattle locals know, time spent in Edmonds is always time well spent. 

Rick Steves has been traveling almost non stop since spring,
but he is back in town...


On Saturday, I had a specific goal in mind when I stopped chez Rick. His European Travel Festivals are successful events, but many people do not know that Europe through the Back Door also offers free weekly travel classes year round. 

You may remember I teach France travel workshops in the Seattle area. The most challenging of these programs (and the most popular,) is Survival French for the Traveler. In just three hours, I lead participants through the basics of French pronunciation; essential French expressions; and I provide cultural and travel tips. The program is fast-paced, and not for the faint of heart. I keep it light and fun, and most participants show enthusiasm and a willingness to make fools of themselves as they tackle the notoriously challenging French sounds. By the time they leave, they know major greetings; understand the importance of "Bonjour!" and know how to ask and answer basic questions, or find their way around a typical restaurant menu.

When teaching French/Spanish/Italian/Martian for the Traveler classes, native instructors are always pulled in two different directions: How much time should be spent on speaking the target language, and how much time can be devoted to sharing cultural and travel tips with the participants? 

It often feels as if I am walking on a tight rope as I instruct that workshop. 

But there is always room to improvement, and on Saturday, I signed up for a free Italian for the Traveler class chez Rick Steves. My goal was to observe another instructor and see if I could do better with my own program. I also wanted to step in my students' shoes for a while and remember what it was like to learn a foreign language from scratch. 

Halloween is around the corner, and Europe through the Back Door had added a European spin to seasonal decor... 

The Guillotine:
What happens to *Ugly* American tourists if they fail
the Rick Steves selection test...

The morning travel presentation on major Italian cities had attracted a large crowd of travel enthusiasts...

As always, Rick Steves' line of travel gear beckoned...

Finally, we were ushered in a classroom where our native Italian instructor, Graziella, faced the difficult task of turning us into fluent speakers in just 1.5 hours! 

I needn't have worried. Graz was up for the challenge. 

Graz chatting with some students at the end of class...

I quickly realized she had all the required personality traits and skills of a successful foreign language instructor. Her energy level and enthusiasm were contagious. She also used humor and engaged the students right away. They laughed their way through the program and time flew by. Finally, thanks to Graziella in-depth knowledge of the American and Italian cultures, participants received invaluable tips they could put to use during upcoming trips. 

Highlights of Graziella's excellent presentation:

Eating strange things in a foreign country:  

"If you go to a ristorante (restaurant,) and the waiter brings something weird to the table, for example four small birds with their heads still on, displayed on a plate, just say: "Allergia!" (sorry, I am allergic!)"

Dealing with nudity: 

"Nudity is everywhere in Italy, and in Europe. Get used to it. Talk to your kids about it. There will be young people making out in front of the duomo (church.) There will be TV commercials with naked women running in a field to advertize a rice brand!" 

About taking your time and going with the flow: 

"Sometimes you may hear of a sciopero (strike.) Don't panic. Figure out if national or regional trains are on strike. Do not get upset. That is the Italian way, and they won't change because you are American. Just bring a book and wait, like everyone else!" 

About using the right greetings:

"There are four different ways at least of saying Hello and Goodbye, (she  lists them.) Then there is "Ciao." You can use it for Hello and Goodbye. It is familiar. Does it matter? Of course not. You are American. You won't be able to hide the fact you are American. That is good news. People will cut you some slack. You get to use "Ciao" all the time if you want to. "

You get the picture. Graziella was a hit. 

I am not sure I can converse fluently in Italian, but I learned how to pronounce words starting with "C-," "Ci-," "Ch-." 
I learned Italians speak many local dialects that are not understood in most other regions. I learned Italy as we know it today is a younger country than the United States. I learned that in Italy, like in France, time is elastic and when someone says " un momento," you could end up waiting for two hours, and for "un secondo," at least 45 minutes... I learned that if I get lost in a town, I should always ask for "il centro," (the center of town.) I learned that excellent brands of Pinot Grigio are sold at Trader Joes' (Mezza Corona.) I learned most Italian restaurants in the United States overcook pasta. I learned that Italians are emotional, often short-tempered, and quick at picking up a fight, or at making peace (unless a family member has been offended in which case they can remain angry for generations.) 

I am grateful for Italy and Italians. Next time I hear Americans criticize the French way, I will be able to say: "It's not just the French. Italians do it too. They have the same rice commercials with naked women running freely in gigantic fields!" I will also say: "The French? Argumentative? Pffff... You obviously have not dealt with Italians before!"

Grazie, Signora Graziella. Job well done. Thank you, Rick Steves, for introducing so many Americans to Europe and European ways for over thirty years!

I watched a new France dvd at the Travel Center...

A trip to Edmonds would not be complete without a short stroll in town, and lunch at Chanterelle... I did just that. Traditions are traditions. The French, like the Italians, are traditional people. I made sure to stay away from the pasta selection (in case it was overcooked...)

Edmonds is ready for fall, and for Halloween. Everywhere I went, I was greeted by friendly characters in this friendly town...

A bientôt, Edmonds. Have a successful European Travel Festival next week!

I will return soon. 

All photos unless otherwise noted by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use, reprint or Pin without permission.
-- French Girl in Seattle

More French Girl in Seattle stories mentioning Edmonds, WA or Rick Steves:

Wonderful small towns: Edmonds, WA. Here.

Searching for the perfect salad niçoise. Here.

Everyday is market day on Cours Saleya, Nice, France. Here.

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Revisiting Classics: Sleepless in Seattle

A long time ago, when I still lived in Paris, France, I remember going to the movies (I did that a lot,) and watching a romantic comedy named Sleepless in Seattle. I only knew where Seattle was because the year before, I had seen another fun flick, Cameron Crowe's Singles. Forget Boeing or Microsoft. Singles is what put Seattle on the [United States] map for me.

It would still be a few years until I took my first trip to the Emerald City, where I would end up moving and living for 18 years.

Nora Ephron's Sleepless in Seattle was released a short year after Singles, and it quickly became a box office darling. Even if they were both considered romantic comedies, these were totally different movies. For me at least, Sleepless did a much better job at selling Seattle than Singles. In fact, Sleepless pulled off an amazing feat: It made one of the soggiest, grayest American cities look irresistible.

I watched Sleepless again last weekend, and I was surprised to notice this Classic - the movie turned 20 this year - has aged pretty well.

Sure, you can tell the story takes place in the early 1990s: I did not spot a single cell phone. Nobody tweets or mentions Facebook. Working women still wear shoulder pads. Three female characters sport short, permed bobs...

Barbara Garrick as Victoria

Some things have not changed. Several scenes show cramped coach cabins on domestic flights, and one (young) character exclaims: "I'd rather die than eat airplane food!

Seattle weather is still a sure thing, and another character warns: "It rains nine months a year in Seattle."

Just so you can follow my ramblings today, how about a quick plot summary? 

Widowed father Sam Baldwin, (Tom Hanks) moves from Chicago to Seattle to start a new life with his precocious
8-year old son, Jonah (Ross Malinger.) A few months later, on Christmas eve, Jonah calls a popular radio talk show host to try and help his father find a new wife. Thousands of women across the country hear Sam's story that night. One of them, Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Reed (Meg Ryan,) falls in love with Sam and risks everything to meet him. After many plot twists and some help from two meddlesome children, Sam and Annie meet at the top of the Empire State Building and... it's like magic. They fall in love. The end.

The movie's iconic last scene:
Annie and Sam meet on the Observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Most people would refer to Sleepless as a "chick-flick," a love story. And it is. The undeniable chemistry between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (two of the most likeable and bankable stars in American cinema,) helped carry the movie, even if they have only a few short scenes together, a gutsy move by writer/director Nora Ephron. But Sleepless is also a touching love story between a father (Hanks,) and his young son (played to perfection by young Ross Malinger.) 

Calling "Dr Marsha" on Christmas Eve...
Sam gets his nickname "Sleepless in Seattle,"
and a devoted female following across the country

Jonah is a cute kid, but he makes his widowed father's life complicated while trying to help him. During his dad's first date with the assertive Victoria (Barbara Garrick, pictured above,) he calls a radio talk show host for help and screams: "My father is kissing her on the lips! She's a hoe! My father has been captured by a hoe!" 

Later, once he believes he has found the perfect wife for Sam, he begs his father to fly across the country to go and meet her at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine's day. Sam's answer, a reference to a popular 1980s thriller, Fatal Attraction

- "There is no way that we are going on a plane to meet a woman who could be a crazy sick lunatic. Didn't you see Fatal Attraction? (...) Well, I saw it. It scared the shit out of me. It scared the shit out of every man in America!"

(Sam may have been out of the dating scene for a long time, he is still a smart man. Many cheating husbands still forget the great life lesson in Fatal Attraction: A jilted, unstable mistress is likely to turn into a stalker and cause havoc in your personal life. Consider yourself lucky if all she does is boil your kid's favorite pet on the kitchen stove!) 

Jonah has cute moments too. After flying on his own to New York, he has a taxi drop him off at the Empire State building:

Cab driver: "What are you going to do when you get up there? Spit from the top?"
Jonah: "No, I am going to meet my new mother.

Sleepless has other interesting male characters. Sam's best friend, Jay, is played by director Rob Reiner. In a classic lunch scene at Seattle's Pike Place Market, Jay gives Sam dating tips. Hilarity ensues:

Jay: Tiramisu...
Sam: What is Tiramisu?
Jay: You'll find out.
Sam: What is it?
Jay: You'll see.
Sam: Some woman is going to want me to do it to her, and I won't know what it is...
Jay: You'll love it.
Sam: Oh, this is going to be tough...

Sam and Jay discuss Tiramisu and dating in the 1990s

In Sleepless, women are neurotic, yet relatable. 

Supporting roles include Annie's (Meg Ryan) best friend, Becky (hilarious Rosie O'Donnell.) Like many women in the story, these two can't help bawling whenever they watch the iconic An Affair to Remember

An Affair to remember (1957)
Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr

Becky (Rosie O'Donnell,) Annie (Meg Ryan)
Pass the tissue box!

Sam's best female friend, Suzy (played by Hanks' wife, actress Rita Wilson,) steals the show in a comical scene when she recalls the famous movie's ending, sobbing. 

In the lead female role, Meg Ryan shines as Annie Reed, a Baltimore Sun reporter. Her comedic chops are in full display in some of the movie's most famous scenes. And we are reminded that once, a long time ago, Meg Ryan was America's sweetheart. She could act and make us laugh, and for a while at least, did not take herself seriously. As Annie, she gets to say things like: "If a guy who loses his wife is called a widower, why don't they say he was just 'widowered' instead of 'widowed?'" -- and she comes across as cute.

For who could resist these baby blue eyes and pearly whites? 

Not Walter, her fiancé (a solid performance by likeable Bill Pullman.) 

Walter is described early on as boring and predictable ("He is allergic to everything...") And Annie is often the only one who understands his jokes (He orders "Dom de Louise" Champagne from a puzzled waiter instead of "Dom Perignon.") Yet, he proves a class act at the end of the movie, when he lets Annie go. She is absolutely correct when she declares: "Walter, I don't deserve you."

The way they were: Annie and Walter

Yes, once, a long time ago, America (and the world) loved Meg Ryan. It is not difficult to understand why...

But Sleepless in Seattle's main star is not Tom, or even Meg. It is the Emerald City itself. 

How many people decided to move to the Puget Sound area after watching the movie? 

How many people dreamed of owning a houseboat on Lake Union like Sam (Hanks?) 

Sleepless was released in 1993, and the Seattle real estate market has never been the same. Twenty years later, "Sam and Jonah's house" is still the shining star of the city's houseboat community. For a look inside, check this King 5 story

At the Athenian inn, inside Pike Place Market, a plaque shows where Tom Hanks sat during the iconic lunch scene...

I must confess it was a fun experience for me to watch the movie again, from a local's perspective. 

I recognized several streets and locations such as Alki Beach Park, in West Seattle, where Sam and his son Jonah play in the sand...

I realize now that writer and director Nora Ephron took some liberties while shooting that scene: There is no way a responsible father would take his 8-year old son from Lake Union, through the Ballard Locks, then across choppy Elliott Bay, all the way to Alki Beach in such a tiny dinghy... but in the magical world of movie making, one should not ask too many questions.

I have also found out, while researching this story, that the iconic final scene at the top of the Empire State building was, in fact, shot in Seattle, inside a Magnuson Park hangar, where the former Sand Point Naval Air station used to be.

Love my movie trivia!

To wrap up this story, I will leave you with the best song in the excellent Sleepless movie soundtrack, a Wink and a Smile, by Harry Connick Jr.

A bientôt.