Thursday, December 26, 2013

Joyeux Anniversaire, le Blog !

Cher Blog. Dear Blog.

Three years have gone by since that first story, inspired by a fun evening with my French students. 

Le temps passe. Time flies. 

3 years. 176 posts. Over 535,000 pageviews. Close to 1,000 Followers (my most faithful readers,) here, or on the blog's Facebook page. Many comments - and just as many replies from this French Girl

International friendships, developing over time, and more to come, I hope.

Merci, le Blog

In 2013, I neglected you on occasion. Life caught up with me, and I did not always have the time to research, and write the stories that have become your trademark. But like a true friend, you understood. You stayed by my side, always ready to offer a break; a few hours of escapism, and peace. 

For when I am with you, I forget all that is unpleasant. And I keep coming back for more, every so often, enjoying every minute of the writing process; looking for the perfect photo to illustrate my story. Then I hit the "Publish" button, and in the morning, I discover my readers' comments, with the same enthusiasm I felt three years ago, when we embarked on this adventure. My readers: I am grateful to each and every one of them, and thankful for their support. 

Oui, Joyeux Anniversaire, le Blog !

While visitors' comments provide qualitative feedback, a closer look at Blogger's statistics section confirms what stories have been the most popular; what posts have inspired the most reactions. 

Follow me, my readers, as we revisit stories you may have missed, or forgotten...

Le blog's all time five most popular stories (in pageviews):

If you do not know Mademoiselle Zaz, it is time to look her up. Great voice. Catchy tunes. An electric personality. She made the headlines again this year with a new album and a sold-out tour. 

This may very well be the world's most popular shoe. One of many stories I wrote for the "French Icon series." 

A story inspired by a solo trip a favorite French city, Nice. I have since written several travelogues about Nissa la Bella. 

4. The incredible French waiters (February 26, 2011) 
An oldie, and a goodie. A humorous look at the often-misunderstood French waiter... and valuable travel tips. 

Audrey Hepburn liked it. So did Brigitte Bardot, Marion Cotillard, and the rest of us, when spring returns. Another popular story in the "French Icon series." 

Le Blog's 2013 most popular posts (in pageviews)

If you have been following this blog for a while, you know I love movies. Cinema is my oldest friend. In 2013, more than ever, my favorite movie characters came to the rescue and provided entertainment, strength, and inspiration. In the spring, I was honored to review several new French movies for the Seattle International Film Festival. But my most popular stories were inspired by movie Classics...

Scarlett. Need I say more? 

I moved to this area 19 years ago. It was good to be reminded about the film that started my (and everyone else's) infatuation with Seattle, so long ago.

A new version of the Great Gatsby was released this year, and I loved it! But this post was just an excuse to poke fun at Parisians.

In 2013, my readers also gave the thumbs up to stories about the French way of life. Trying to steer clear of stereotypes, I pointed out trends in French culture that may be surprising to some...

Find out why you do not really need to speak French when visiting my homeland...

It's all about the Am-Ba-Ga (and kale!) in Paris, these days! 

So many new readers found French Girl in Seattle on Facebook this year! They say teenagers have moved on to other social media. Maybe so. The French Girl in Seattle community on Facebook keeps growing, and growing. We started 2013 with fewer than 200 Followers. Today, we have over 640... Build it, and they will come... 

I can't post on the blog every day (mostly because I research my stories and need time to write,) but it is much easier to keep in touch with friends on Facebook. This year, I have enjoyed sharing news, trivia, and photos about la Belle France and the French with all the community members. 

French Girl in Seattle's Facebook page.
Most popular photos:

1. "Le Tout Va Bien" brasserie, Rueil Malmaison, France (posted on September 7, 2013.)
Over 6,000 people saw that photo, *shared* generously by the French Girl in Seattle community. Apparently, everyone enjoys the idea of a restaurant named: "All is well."

(Photo by French Girl in Seattle) 

2. Alcohol... (posted in July 2013.) 
This photo, captured on a walk in Notting Hill last July, reached 2,500 Facebook members. Hmmm... I wonder why...

(Photo by French Girl in Seattle) 

3. "Je porte bonheur" (I am your good luck charm.) 
My readers - many are francophiles - are always interested in learning more about French traditions and holidays. On May 1, I reminded them that my countrymen offer un brin de muguet (Lily of the Valley) to their loved ones to bring them good luck. This post reached over 2,000 Facebook users.

(Author unknown.)

4. Le 14 Juillet (Bastille Day.) 
This photo, taken in Nice, France in July 2012, was a big hit with the French Girl in Seattle community last summer. It reached over 1,800 Facebook users. 

(Photo by French Girl in Seattle) 

5. Food, food, and more [French] food...
Chez French Girl in Seattle, we *love* French food. The next best thing to eating it? Looking at it, of course! Over 1,200 Facebook members saw that photo posted during my European travels last summer.

(photo by French Girl in Seattle) 

It is the Holiday season, and everyone is busy, busy, busy. I hope you are enjoying the time spent with relatives, and friends. 

Yes, the little blog that could has come a long way, and it will continue to entertain you - and me - in 2014. Je croise les doigts. Fingers crossed. 

Please join me in wishing Le Blog a resounding: "Joyeux Anniversaire !" 

To you, mes amis, I wish "Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!" 

Stay tuned in 2014...

A bientôt.

Pike Place Market, December 2013
Le jour... (Day....) 
... la nuit (and night...)
(both photos by French Girl in Seattle) 

All photos unless otherwise noted by French Girl in Seattle
Do not use, reprint, or Pin without Permission.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Noël in Seattle's "Little Paris"

Today, I visited a favorite Seattle neighborhood, Madison Valley. The French flavor is so strong there, that locals - and the media - have nicknamed it: "Seattle's Little Paris." 

You may remember the story I wrote about it. I introduced you to some of my favorite places. Some are now gone. Madison Valley, like most places, keeps evolving.

My friend Kelly and I made fun plans this weekend, but she woke up with a bad cold, and we had to cancel our little outing. 

I needed a back-up plan. Should I stay at home and spend more time reviewing for next week's exams? Should I go out in the damp and grey weather for a long walk with the Yellow Dog? Should I go up in the attic and finally drag down the big storage boxes to decorate the house for the Holidays? 

Non. Fugget-about-it. "I deserve a fun break," I thought, "not to mention I need new material for this week's blog post."

Off I went. Across the bridge. Away from suburbia. Back to the city. Ahhhh... Holiday lights. Boutiques. Coffee shops. Actual sidewalks, with actual people strolling... In short: Civilization! 

Of all the French restaurants I love in Seattle (and I am lucky to report the city has a few good ones,) Luc, owned by Chef Thierry Rautureau, holds a special place in my heart. This is the restaurant where I once met for dinner with my French students, and that fun evening inspired the very first story I wrote on this blog, three years ago. 

The French Studio group, circa December 2010
A great bunch!

Luc is a popular bistro, but I hoped I could find a table between brunch and dinner service. When I pushed the door after 3:00pm, the place was almost empty. An uncommon sight. 

I even got to choose my table, and sat by the window, so I could watch people in the street. Just like in France!

All good meals start with a pretty, sparkling drink!

The brunch menu was original, and impressive. There were traditional egg-based dishes, with a twist. There were heartier plats (entrees) one would expect to find on a dinner menu; Boeuf Bourguignon; trout amandine; and traditional bistro fare, like les moules-frites; and grilled beef onglet steak.

Yet, for a French Girl of Pied-Noir ancestry, the homemade merguez sausage proved too hard to resist. It was served with a fried egg, potato-spinach gratin, roasted squash, and some greens. Délicieux ! (The merguez had just enough of a kick to make it stand out.) 

Portions were copious, but the young waiter was so friendly I could not resist ordering a chocolate pot de crème for dessert. It was a feast, and in the middle of the day. 

Pourquoi pas ? On ne vit qu'une fois. You only live once. 

Notice the whipped cream and chocolate sablé cookie...
A decadent dessert, but served French style (i.e. a small portion) 

I enjoyed my meal, under young Chef Rautureau's watchful eyes (the painting was on the wall above my table.)

Thierry Rautureau is known as "the Chef in the Hat," and if you look closely, you can spot said-hat not only on the Chef's head these days, but also on the restaurant sign, and in the painting... That hat (and its owner) have been well-known on the Seattle food scene for many years.

The best part of the afternoon came after the meal. I strolled in the small neighborhood and stopped at a few favorite boutiques to get in the Holiday mood... 

Lavender Heart is a must-see. They specialize in fragrant gifts, like soaps and candles, but you never know what you will discover there. It is the perfect place to find a hostess gift. Best part of the visit: a chat with the friendly owner (Yesterday, we discussed our favorite dishes chez Luc, located on the same street block.) 

A festive atmosphere

Two of these Elves' and Pixies' soap bars,
made in Belgium, came home with me!

Another mandatory stop in Madison Valley is my friend Nohra's Inès Pâtisserie. I introduced her and her spectacular confections here

I had not seen Nohra in a long time.  She remains as enthusiastic, direct and independent-minded as always. J'aime bien Nohra. I like her. She tells it like it is. Some customers might be surprised, but her business is thriving. She will be opening a new branch of Inès Pâtisserie in popular Capitol Hill next year. 

When I arrived, Nohra was on her way out, and the display windows almost empty, but there is always time to catch up with "a sister." She sent me home with a delicious almond croissant for Sunday's breakfast, and a scrumptious-looking tarte aux pommes (apple tart) because, she declared: "You've had a rough year, and it is time to have fun again!"

Petit-déjeuner à la française. Merci, Nohra!

There was time for one last stop, and I had to choose carefully. I have not had a chance to really get in the Holiday spirit this year. The fall has been too busy. 

"I want to smell real Christmas trees," I decided. And I knew just the place.

It smelled so good at City People's I almost expected Frosty the snowman to show up and grab Nohra's pastries out of my hand! Cars were lined up on the small parking lot waiting for the staff to wrap up their Christmas trees and load them up. A seasonal scene if there ever was one. 

It's not a great shot of the store sign, but I want you to know I almost got run over by a S.U.V. to take it. Had this happened in Paris, I would have certainly died, but the Seattle driver did not even honk at me.

This "paparazette" is dedicated, you see!

As anticipated, "cute" and "Christmassy" awaited inside City People's garden store. Illustration.

Who does not like owls...
... or little mice...
... or a handmade miniature fox with a backpack?
... or a wise (and elegant) angel?

As I said, cute and Christmassy.

The following journal was neither, but I was très, très tempted, especially when I noticed each page featured Ryan Gosling's face and an enticing message: "Hey girl, tell me all about your day...

But I do not need a Prince Charming for now. I think I am going to have fun being on my own for a while (sorry, Ryan.) 

So off I went, back to suburbia, my favorite car smelling like my old Parisian neighborhood, thanks to Nohra's fragrant pastries. 

There would be time later for a long, long, long walk with the Yellow Dog (because all indulgences come with a price...) There would be time for home decorating, and for more studying.

For now, as I drove across the bridge, I was happy to hum along with Frank Sinatra (courtesy of Junior, a big fan of the Rat Pack...) 

I'll be home for Christmas

I am dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it's a long road back
I promise you

I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

If only in my dreams

A bientôt.

All photos by French Girl in Seattle
Do not use, reprint or Pin without permission.
-- French Girl in Seattle

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Si Versailles m'était conté (Royal affairs in Versailles)

Gold. So much gold. And carp. Voracious carp, intent on sharing your picnic lunch as you sit by the Grand Canal.

These are my memories of Versailles, the magical place I visited as a child with my family and Parisian relatives.

As I recall, I was not that fascinated with the grandiose castle, the Hall of Mirrors, the King and Queen's apartments; but I adored roaming the grounds, playing hide-and-seek with my brother and cousins. After a while, we collapsed, ravenous, and enjoyed a picnic on the grass by the canal; tossing chips and breadcrumbs at the gigantic carp; laughing as the fish fought for scraps in the dark water, their menacing mouths gaping.

This summer, while in Paris, I decided to return to the Sun King's estate, the castle of all castles. Things have not changed at all. The lines are still among the longest in Europe during peak tourist season. They meander through the giant courtyard, past the golden gates, all the way into the main building, formidable, inescapable, a European rite of passage.

My friend Rick Steves stopped by with his crew a few days after my visit. Rick is a lucky man: He was allowed to tape his new show in an empty château...

The Hall of Mirrors: Make room for Rick and the boys! 

But as many who visit Versailles during peak tourist season know, discovering the Sun King's prized possession can be a grueling experience.


Moi? I stayed away from the palace. I skipped the long lines in the courtyard; aimed for the side entrance, leading to the gardens; and emerged on the other side of the main building, on the terrace overlooking the majestic grounds. I did not stop to take photos, but headed for Marie-Antoinette's domain, at the back of the estate, a thirty-minute brisk walk, while many visitors stayed behind, congregating around the castle and the famous fountains. 

And what a walk that was! Classical music was coming out of the elegant groves (part of Versailles' summer "Musical Garden" show,) and I could picture Louis XIV and his court, strolling the grounds and listening to Jean-Baptiste Lully, the King's favorite composer.

I was one of the first to enter the queen's private domain. I had not seen it since it re-opened in 2006, and I was immediately charmed by its many facets and bucolic appeal. The newly-renovated Petit Trianon. The French garden. The English garden. The temple of Love. And the masterpiece, the Hamlet, a small village - once a working farm - where the Queen played shepherdess. One could spend a whole day (or two,) discovering Marie-Antoinette secret refuge. 

Le Hameau (The Hamlet)
Built 1783-1788, Richard Mique, architect
La maison du jardinier (the gardener's house) 

Le Moulin (the windmill)
Le Petit Trianon
Le Pavillon Français (the French pavillon)
Built 1749-1750 - Ange-Jacques Gabriel, architect

It was hard to pull away, but after a couple of hours, I started walking back, taking a short detour to admire the pink marble splendor of le Grand Trianon. Then I found a spot in the shade where I enjoyed my picnic lunch, reminiscing... My brother and cousins were not there with me that day, but young Parisian children were having fun. "Imagine that," I smiled, "summer camp where kings and queens used to play!

I still had to discover my favorite section of the expansive Versailles grounds. As I approached the castle, I almost bumped into the famous Orangerie. Did my family skip it, years ago? I did not remember it. How grateful I was when I peeked through the gates...

L'Orangerie. Jules-Hardouin Mansart's masterpiece. Imagine hundreds of fragrant orange blossoms; lemon trees; palm trees; elegantly displayed throughout the grounds and kept in giant containers, so they can be winterized in the Orangerie's main building. 

All plants and topiaries are still pruned by hand, by a small crew of young gardeners who were hard at work when I stopped by...

Notice the cardboard shapes used to prune the trees...

The Orangerie building, like the rest of Versailles, is magnificent. The sheer size of the doors; the height of the ceilings; it's almost overwhelming. That's exactly how the Sun King wanted it.

While the plants are outside for the summer,
the building becomes an impressive exhibition hall.

"Yes," I decided, "Versailles still has a lot to offer, and like Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, or a Seine river cruise at sunset, it would be a shame to miss it."

Versailles attracts over six million visitors a year. With a bit of planning (tickets can be purchased online,) you can skip the big crowds and find your happy place, as I did, at the Sun King's estate. The city of Versailles is lovely. Try and spend time there if you can, after you visit the castle.

Almost three hundred years after the Sun King's death, Versailles keeps us dreaming.

It inspires movie directors, old and new...

Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette (2006) 

The estate is the ideal showcase for French luxury goods...

Charlize does Versailles for Dior

Chanel's 2012 Cruise Collection
(Karl Lagerfeld fits right in and does not even need to wear a wig!) 

... or for iconic French artists...

Gorgeous Vanessa Paradis
(Photographed by Karl Lagerfeld) 

Vanessa Paradis, for her one-night acoustic concert at Versailles' Royal Opera house,
"One Night in Versailles," 2010

And even if sections of the castle can be rented for private parties, (imagine hosting 600 of your very best friends for a birthday bash inside the Orangerie or the Galerie des Batailles,) I sincerely hope that bling-bling* couple Kanye West and Kim Kardashian choose another venue for their upcoming wedding...

Nice necklace, Kanye. The Sun King would approve!

Apparently, the French public agrees. Here are some comments I found online when the rumor emerged that K. W. and K. K. had their eyes on Versailles...

- "N'importe quoi!"

- "Et le couronnement, c'est pour quand?"
(When is the coronation scheduled?)

- "Sur Mars, c'est plus classe, et avec un peu de chance, ils ne reviendront pas!"
(Send them to Mars. It's classier, and with a bit of luck, they won't come back!)

A bientôt.

All photos (unless otherwise noted,) by French Girl in Seattle
Do not use, re-print or Pin without permission.

* Bling-bling. Tacky. Gaudy. Lover of expensive things. Was famously used to refer to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Additional materials: 

Dior's commercial with Charlize Theron. 
Can you spot Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, or Marlene Dietrich? :-)