Love Letter to Paris


To my beautiful, magical, wonderful City of Light:

I’ve felt a sadness sneaking into my days over the last few weeks. It’s in the background, this melancholy, like a lingering goodbye. I wander the streets of Paris and think about the things I will miss most about this magnificent city that I have loved.

Of course, I will miss the light. Paris is the City of Light, after all. There’s a softness to the violet-blue of the day, and a gorgeous tinge of pinkness that starts to take over at the end of the afternoon. By sunset, everything turns an almost violent orange and pink. And then, after twilight the sky turns indigo. It’s a beautiful, tranquil, dark blue that reminds me of a big, old blanket. And all the street lights flick on in the evening, creating brilliant stars of white light along the streets and boulevards. This city feels magical, no matter the time of day.

Without a doubt, I love the people more than anything else. My husband and I have the best neighbors we’ve ever had in our lives. We’ve been to dinner at each other’s homes more times than I can count. We kind of alternate, back and forth, but each time, the meal centers around the beautiful wines that Olivier and Miriam bring over. We talk and laugh, and we enjoy each other’s company. Even the teenaged boys, Antoine and Nicolas, cancel their plans when we decide to have dinner together. This, in my opinion, is a modern day miracle: no iPods, iPads or cell phones whipped out at the table. Just all of us, talking and laughing together for hours. It has been a wonderful year, sharing the floor of our building with this beautiful family.

I don’t know where we’d be without our best friends here: Florence and Pascal. They are the most loving couple I’ve ever met. And they are not only loving with each other, but with us as well. We cherish our time with them. Pascal and Leon share a passion for vintage cognacs and they always manage to end our evenings together with a glass of something spicy and special. Florence is amazing. She’s a supermom to all of her children while working full-time and making everything look effortless. The time that I have together with Florence is time that I cherish. She is truly a kindred spirit. The thought of leaving her always brings tears to my eyes.

Then, there are the guys at Mon Bistrot. Yann, the chef and co-owner, is a mad genius of the culinary arts. Franck, the other owner, runs the front of the house and always slips us a little something wonderful from the bar at the end of the meal. Julien is our waiter. We don’t even have to ask for him. Everyone just knows that we MUST have Julien. He is like our lucky charm, and we love him. Leon and I have even had Julien and his beautiful wife to dinner at our place. And Etienne is Julien’s partner in crime, helping keep every table on track and happy. These four men make up the magic of our favorite restaurant in all of Paris, and I consider them “my guys.” I am going to miss my guys terribly when we leave this afternoon.

I have this friend Lucy, who works at our favorite boulangerie, Julien’s. This darling girl gave me French lessons every time I came into the shop when I first moved here. Even now, when she sees me, she squeals, starts waving and gives me kisses — one on each cheek, very French.

My other beautiful shop-friend, Serap, works at the corner Monop where I buy my groceries. She and I always greet each other with kisses. Every time we see each other, my day is automatically better by at least 20%. When the terrorists attacked last November, I didn’t see her for almost a week. I was so worried that something awful had happened either to her or someone she loved. When we finally saw each other, she came out from behind the counter to give me a long hug. She whispered into my ear that she had been so worried about me. I’ve loved her ever since.

I’m also going to miss these two homeless men that I bring lunch or dinner to every couple of days. They each have beautiful, well-cared for dogs that they love with all their hearts, which is, of course, what made me start to care so much for them. Now, whenever I walk by, their eyes light up, and they get big old smiles on their faces as they pop out a happy “Bon jour, madame! Comment ça va?” and we chat for a bit as we pet each other’s dogs. One time, I only had one of my dogs with me because Molly was down with back pain. One of my guys asked where she was. I told him that Molly was at the vet — that her back was very bad. For weeks afterward, he took special care with Molly whenever he saw her. He would pet her gently and speak soothingly to her. And he would always, always ask me how she was doing. I love these guys. I’m going to miss them, more than I ever imagined was possible.

There is a gentility to the people here, a graciousness and formality that is respectful and intimate at the same time. Just the ritual of looking into each other’s eyes and saying “Bonjour” whenever you encounter someone on the street, in a shop, wherever. It creates a connection from one person to the next that makes you feel…part of the world. I know it’s a small thing, but it has huge repercussions. Trust me. I’ve seen it work its magic over and over. There is a connectedness here that I don’t feel anywhere else.

Aside from the people though, I think the thing I will miss the most is the amount of life you have in your life here. In Texas, each weekend was devoted to shopping at five different grocery stores in order to throw a dinner party. It was a lot of work, and while it was fun to see our friends, we were usually busy most of the day and night with prepping, cooking and cleaning up. That was pretty much what we did every week. Not a lot of rest during your weekends that way. By comparison, here in Paris every weekend feels like a vacation. And there’s so much to experience here. So many “souvenirs” — treasured memories I’ll take with me.

Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day are unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like them. Bastille Day fireworks are a “day-long, into the night” party! In the afternoon, people start setting up picnic dinners on the great lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower (aka: the Champs de Mars). Everyone drinks wine and waits for the darkness. In the meantime, an orchestra starts playing a concert at the base of the tower that begins at sunset. The music helps pass the time before the fireworks display. Once those fireworks begin, even the biggest cynic on earth starts to believe in magic. The fireworks are synchronized to the music played by the live orchestra. And the most amazing part? The fireworks aren’t just set off in the sky. No way. The fireworks for a full 40-minute concert have been loaded onto the Tower itself so the fireworks shoot off of her, in spirals, with words, in rhythmic patterns. It’s like the Dancing Waters at the Bellagio Hotel, only with fire AND colored flames. It leaves you at once breathless and screaming. No one does fireworks like the French on Bastille Day. No one.

I adore the Musée de l’Orangerie with Monet’s grand canvases. And our afternoons in the Tuileries will be lovely memories, just sitting by the fountain with our feet up, staring over at the Musée D’Orsay. Being a tour guide at the Louvre, for friends and strangers alike has been great. I’ve loved going to church at Notre Dame Cathedral, and then strolling over to Quartier Latin for fondue.

Of course, the architecture is as breathtaking as everything else. It is so special, so uniquely feminine with its curving wrought iron balconies and the rounded buildings everywhere you look. Just walking down the block makes you feel as though you’re on vacation.

Since the landmark Arc de Triomphe is in our back yard, we are there almost every day for one reason or another. It’s only about a 10-minute walk from our apartment. We love that boulevard. It’s amazing how much fun it is to live in this neighborhood. We’ve been on the Champs Élysées for the Bastille Day parade, watching in awe as the military planes flew overhead streaming red, white and blue smoke. We’ve watched the winners of the Tour de France cross the finish line here. We’ve seen the United States Secretary of State lay flowers on the tomb of the unknown soldier at the base of the Arc de Triomphe. While he did this, the French Military Band solemnly played the United States National Anthem as a tribute — to thank our country for its help during World War II. Embassy representatives from all over the world looked on with respect and admiration. I have never been prouder to be an American.

We’ve picnicked on the Champs Élysées, and even been to wine tastings here when they closed the boulevard to traffic. I love it when they do that. Then it feels like the main drag of a huge university campus. We’ve wandered through the Christmas bazaar here. We’ve even watched the beginning of the Paris marathon as group after group began their race to the beat of the drums.

We’ve been to both memorial events for World War I and World War II on the Champs Élysées. We’ve seen thousands of French citizens turn out for these tributes to their veterans. We’ve seen the soldiers themselves come out by the hundreds, some walking, some in wheelchairs, but they are all proudly decked out in freshly pressed uniforms, saluting as they pass each other on the street.

Even when we just want to walk the dogs in the evening, we always seem to stroll the ten minutes to the Etoile, and stare up at the Grand Arch, while we watch the tourists take photos of it with their cell phones. We feel possessive of that gorgeous monument, somehow. Protective, even. I suppose it’s because we’ve seen it so often. We walk there almost every night, standing in front of it for a few quiet moments before we turn around and go home. I am going to count my days living near that beautiful piece of history as a miracle, a gift from God.

In fact, my favorite memory of Paris is, oddly enough, a moment shared with a total stranger. Just next to the Arc de Triomphe, at the World War II memorial event, a very old soldier in a wheelchair and I caught each other’s eyes. I held up my camera and shrugged my shoulders to say, “May I take a photo of you? He smiled, nodded, and saluted me. His photo is the last one in the series above.)  Anyway, I saw him sitting there in that wheelchair, and I was overwhelmedby his service. As a thank you, I bowed my head to him. In response, he blew me a kiss, and I blew one to him. I felt closer to him in that moment than almost anyone I’d ever known in my life, and I began to weep. He just smiled and blew me another kiss. There was pure love, flowing in both directions. I know nothing about him, not even his name. But, I will never forget that moment…or him.

Thank you, Paris, for everything.
Je t’aime, ma belle amie.

Parc Monceau in Paris

If someone asked me to pick the one moment when I felt like Paris had become my home, I would say that it was when my husband, Leon, and I walked into Parc Monceau for the first time.

It was Christmas of 2014. The weather was crisp and clean, and the sky was a beautiful pale blue, tinged with violet. Leon and I had been wandering around the 17th arrondissement, looking for neighborhoods we liked, knowing that sometime in the next month we’d be moving here.

Since the city of Paris is laid out in a star-pattern, seven different streets in the 17th lead you directly to the 20-foot tall, wrought-iron and gold-leaf gates of the park. The moment we walked through that massive entrance by the beautiful pavilion, I knew we were someplace special.

We strolled through the park together, just people-watching and getting a feel for the place. Somehow, this gorgeous space manages to feel relaxing and busy at the same time. The park is laid out in a big rectangle, and around every corner, you’ll find people doing something interesting and fun.

There’s a long, oval jogging track along the perimeter of the park crammed full of Parisians running off the baguettes they ate at dinner the night before. Inside that track are several, large green lawns where dozens of couples are always picnicking or just lying around, soaking up the sun. Towards the base of the park is a beautiful, man-made pond with a set of Roman columns curving around one end; the ducks hang out there. On the side lawns, there’s always a few private kickboxing lessons and one or two small groups practicing Tai Chi. Even the French version of the Girl Scouts meets here!

A wide, promenade runs through the center of the park from north-to-south and east-to-west. This area is lined with benches which are almost always full. Old folks sit in their Sunday best, just chatting with each other about their lives.

There are pony rides for the children every Saturday and Sunday. The braver kids toss bread to the ducks and try to pet them. They never get very close — mostly they just run and giggle wildly. The youngest ones take turns riding the beautiful, antique carousel. It’s covered in Edison bulbs and even has an old-fashioned calliope for music. This carousel isn’t just limited to standard merry-go-round horses, either. It has all sorts of magnificent and magical creatures: leaping fish, beautiful swans, fiery stallions, and unicorns. It even has a turn-of-the-century, Jules Verne-style hot air balloon. All of them stand ready to coax along the imaginations of the small children playing there.

On that first visit to the Parc Monceau, surrounded by the families and the old folks, the pony rides and the joggers, I felt an inexplicable wave of belonging – like I had found my way back home. I turned to Leon with tears in my eyes, and said “This is where we belong. We’re home. If you can find an apartment within walking distance of this park and Rue de Levis, that would be perfect.” And that is exactly what he did.

We live in the 8th arrondissement now, just about a five-minute walk from Parc Monceau. We go there all the time. In fact, long ago, I started referring to it as “our” park. It is still a magical place for me, as it is for many others. I’m not kidding; Songs have been written about this park. Poems too. It’s breathtaking here.

There are bigger parks, of course, more glamorous ones like Parc Luxembourg, but in my opinion, none is better than Parc Monceau. It is the very best version of a neighborhood park, right up there with Central Park in New York. It is a part of everyday life in our neighborhood. It is vibrant and alive, and peaceful and calm, all at once.

Parc Monceau is my favorite place in the entire city of Paris to sit and soak up the atmosphere of Paris. We grab an almond croissant from Rue de Levis and sit on a bench with the pups while we watch the world turn. It’s romance at its finest.

To see photos and hear a beautiful, little love song about Parc Monceau, click here:

Souvenirs from Paris

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my favorite memories of Paris, and what souvenirs might help me remember those moments after we return to Texas. In the French language, the word “souvenir” means both “little gift to remember your trip” and “memory.” That’s so perfect. Souvenirs should be a doorway back to the time you spent somewhere, always reminding you how you felt when you were actually there.

Certainly, the perfect souvenir of Paris would have to be something beautiful, something elegant or artsy, and of course, it would have to be incredibly special. I’ve always been a big fan of the Hermes scarf — or any beautiful scarf, really. Parisians, both men and women, wear scarves everywhere all year long, so they make a great memory of Paris. They’re also lightweight and don’t take up much room in your suitcase, which is a total plus. And you can enjoy them forever.

Jewelry is another wonderful souvenir — a little bit of sparkle to help you remember the City of Light. You can find something classic and elegant or funky and eclectic. Prices run the gamut, everything from high-end platinum and gold, to estate pieces that you can find for a song at the Parisian flea markets.

If you’ve got a little more room in your suitcase, you can always go for a beautiful wallet or even a handbag made by a French designer like Lanvin, Chloé or Chanel. Another French designer, not as well known in the States, but huge here in Paris is Gerard Darel. He designed an adorable BoHo Chic style bag called “the 24-hour bag.” Celebrities back home love it, I’m guessing because it’s almost impossible to find in the States. The bag has as much personality as it does room, and it’s lot of fun to carry around. It’s a beautiful, utterly Parisian souvenir.

Perfume is another great way to remember Paris. And here’s a fun secret that no one ever tells you. Since many perfumes and colognes are fabricated here in France, they are quite often, much less expensive here than in the United States. For example, my favorite perfume is Creed’s “Pure White.” Here in Paris, it costs about half of what it is back home — a perfect excuse to indulge myself. (In fact, I made my husband into a hero, by buying the largest bottle they make, as “his-gift-to-me” for Valentine’s Day!) “Must de Cartier” is another scent I just adore: spicy, dark and rich -with a hint of vanilla and cinnamon. It’s wonderful for a date night.

Every person, male or female, ought to have at least two great perfumes at home that are totally different: one light & fruity for wearing in the heat, and one that’s spicier and more exotic for wearing at night and in cooler months. Collecting a wardrobe though, of six or eight really, great perfumes is a lot of fun. That way you can change them up to suit whatever mood you’re in.

Buy a big bottle of your favorite scent- one you normally wouldn’t get for yourself. Even better, pick out a brand new one — something that you will associate exclusively with your memories of Paris. Find something that is extraordinary, something that reminds you of romance, indulgence and possibility — because those are the things you will remember about Paris.

You can even go to a custom perfumerie and have the atelier there help you create your own unique scent. There are several places in the city that carefully coach you through every stage of designing your own custom perfume. It can be a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

A lot of tourists prefer less-formal souvenirs, however, and there’s nothing wrong with that! Paris has lots of great choices for typical knick knacks: special coffee mugs, placemats for the kitchen table, aprons, caps, berets, hoodies and t-shirts. They’re not expensive, and children love them. You can find them at ANY tourist shop in Paris: Montmartre, Quartier Latin, La Defense, even the Champs Élysées.

Personally, when I’m looking for something less formal, I love beautiful, artsy dishtowels for the kitchen. They make a great every day memory of Paris. Not to mention, they’re a terrific, little gift to bring home for friends. You can get gorgeous ones at Galeries Lafayette here. People tend to forget about the dishtowels in their kitchen, ignoring them and letting them grow threadbare and ugly. But when you have a really pretty one, it makes you smile every morning. They’re easy to transport in your luggage, and they are pretty reminders of the places you’ve traveled. I have a drawer full of them from all over the world.

Whatever you choose as your special memory of Paris, be it perfume, a scarf or even a simple coffee mug, make sure that it’s something you treasure. That way, every time you use it, you’ll take a moment to remember your time here…and smile.

Links you might like…

Some of the best perfumeries in Paris
Hermes Paris:
Guerlain Paris:

24 Hour Bag by Gerard Darel:

Best Friends in Paris

How can words adequately describe the love you feel for your very best friends? It’s almost impossible, right?

Now, imagine people who have greeted you with open arms when you felt your most vulnerable — who have become your best friends by welcoming you into their country, their home, and their hearts. Friends who have helped you learn to speak a new language and learn a new culture. These loving people have even seen us through some of our scariest and darkest moments during the last year.  It is said, true friends are those who laugh with you, cry with you, and love you unconditionally. It’s my belief that the only words to describe that kind of good fortune are those of gratitude.  So…Thank you God, for our best friends in Paris, Florence and Pascal.

My husband, Leon, met Pascal years ago, through work. A few years back, we were coming to Paris for the holidays, so Leon called Pascal to ask if he’d like to get together. Instead, Pascal and his new wife, Florence, invited us to stay with them for our entire visit. Mind you, this is kind of a huge offer, since they live in the center of Paris in a beautiful, but tiny brownstone with their “Brady Bunch” family.

Pascal has three children from a previous marriage, and Florence has two. Together they have an adorable little daughter, Hélène, and she was two years old at the time. Pascal’s older two children are grown with families of their own, but their younger four children (Anne, Théo, Clara and Hélène) lived with Pascal and Florence. There was only one working bathroom because their second one was being renovated. Yet, they invited us to stay with them in their home for 10 days. Can you even wrap your brain around that?

When we arrived, Florence had a beautiful dinner waiting, and we met the entire family. We sat there at the table, talking and laughing for hours. When we went to our room, there was a beautiful coffee table book about Paris lying on the bed, a gift from Florence and Pascal — to help us remember our vacation in their beautiful city.

Pascal is your typical suave Frenchman: long and lean, handsome and laid-back, and always dressed in the classic French style. He loves cognac and armagnac almost as much as Leon. They are a match made in heaven. And it’s the same way for me and Florence.

She and I are soulmates. We both love cooking and mothering. And we adore our husbands…can’t get enough of them. But we sure do look funny together. First of all, Florence is about 5′ 2″ tall and maybe 85 pounds dripping wet. I am just under six feet and weigh…well, let’s just say a LOT more than 85 pounds. We don’t even look like we’re of the same species!

Their children are all smart, funny, interesting and just plain wonderful. Théo is 17 years old now, a handsome guy with Hugh Grant hair. Clara is 14. She’s the beautiful, quiet one, quick with a smile and a kiss. And Hélène at 6 years old, is the Energizer Bunny. That girl never, ever stops! Needless to say, I love them all. We have dinner with the family quite often. And we even go on weekend vacations with them outside the city.

In fact, as I type this, I am sitting in the back seat of Florence and Pascal’s gigantic “Space Wagon” as the four of us drive to La Rochelle for a short holiday on the coast. Miles Davis is grooving on the stereo, and Leon is discussing his favorite wine regions with Pascal and Florence. I’m just sitting here, with the dogs at my feet, writing — and reveling in our good fortune.

We have amazing, smart, loving friends back home in the States, all of whom feel like family by now: Joy and Craig, Leesy and Mary Ann, Shawn and Dan, Missy and Marvin, Karen and Kevin, Diane and David. Here in Paris, we’ve found new friends, beautiful ones. They’ve adopted us as their own, and for that, we are truly grateful.

If wealth is measured in love, my husband and I are rich beyond measure. Thank you, God, for the friends who become your family.

Day Trips from Paris…Barbizon

Just about an hour outside the city of Paris lies the sleepy, little town of Barbizon. A lot of the great Impressionist painters used to live and work here in Barbizon, and this little village has never forgotten that. Main street is crammed full on either side with art galleries and small museums. Every so often, tucked in between them, you will find an adorable gift boutique or ice cream shoppe. There are also charming restaurants and beautiful homes draped with ivy. But this town is really all about two things: art…and the forest. We’ll get to the forest later, but first things first.

We started off our day by strolling along the main drag, wandering from one little gallery or museum to the next. Sculptures here…paintings there…the home of a brilliant painter across the street. Everywhere we went was uniquely beautiful. Even the homes we bumbled across looked like something from a fairy tale.

We ate lunch at a stone cottage-turned café called La Boheme. The name should tell you all you need to know about the love of the arts that this town demonstrates at every turn. The beautiful restaurant simply dripped character: clay roof, stone facade and gobs and gobs of wisteria crawling all over it.

The restaurant had a homey feel to it, complete with original oil paintings that decorated every buttery-yellow wall. Our quiet table in the corner was right next to a big picture window with a view of the back-garden dining room. It was simply bursting with flowers of every color: violet, indigo, bright yellow, orange, red, pink and of course, a myriad of greens from the ivy and plantings all along the way.

The waitress set down an assortment of nibbles: olives, french bread and butter, and several tamponades. And that was just to say “hello.” The food was very French, of course: duck, lamb, filet du boeuf and salmon. For dessert, we ordered a couple of almond-cherry tarts and the classically French dessert of profiteroles (cream puffs swimming in dark chocolate and covered with vanilla ice cream). A little while later, after a few more stories and a lot more laughs, came the cappuccinos and espressos.

Cappuccinos, by the way, are drunk only by Americans; the French wouldn’t be caught dead drinking anything but an espresso to finish off a meal. (I’ve long since given up trying to fit in on the coffee front. Cappuccinos are a vice I can’t do without.) After our lovely lunch, we were ready for our hike through the forest.

Barbizon’s fairy tale park is called the Fôret de Fountainbleu. It is filled with hundreds of slender, sky-reaching pines and birch trees. There are two trails to choose from (the blue or the yellow) depending on how long and how difficult you want your hike to be. We chose the yellow trail which meandered by the local landmark, “Elephant Rock.” A gigantic boulder, shaped exactly like an elephant -with his trunk lowered to the ground. Of course, my husband, Leon, couldn’t resist, and I have the photos to prove it.

We wandered through the forest for almost two hours.The weather was gorgeous, the temperature was perfect, and the company could not have been better.

Barbizon is a village perfectly located for a day trip from Paris. It’s artsy, it’s elegant, it’s laid back and it’s fun. I can’t wait to go back. Next time, who knows…I might climb “Elephant Rock” myself.