I Hate To Do This, But…

To my readers here on GracefulParis.com,

I love Paris, but I have to share some news with you.

On August 15th of last year, we moved to India. And at some point in the not too distant future, we will most likely relocate to London. So for the past six months now, I’ve been writing stories on my new website that chronicles our time in Asia and will continue with our other adventures across the globe.

It took me six months to write this little notification, because somehow every time I went to write it, it made our leaving Paris seem more permanent somehow. I am finally at a place where I realize that my life is one big adventure…and for now, that adventure is in India.

I will always love Paris. I hope never to take down this website or lose the memories I’ve shared with you here. (Frankly, I’m hoping that one day, my husband and I will move back to our beautiful City of Light, and I will be able to resume my stories at gracefulparis again.)

So you see, I haven’t left Paris — not really. I carry in in my heart everywhere I go. But for now, the adventure is in India.

If you liked reading my stories here, please think about following my new website as well. The link is: http://www.AGracefulWorld.com

I’d love to hear from you.

Until then,


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: https://youtu.be/rDPg7ysBCoA

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 http://www.vogue.com/866564/the-best-perfume-stores-in-paris/
Hermes Paris: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187147-d5494753-Reviews-Hermes-Paris_Ile_de_France.html
Guerlain Paris: http://www.guerlain.com/int/en-int/guerlain-explorer/68-champs-elysees-boutique-feel

24 Hour Bag by Gerard Darel: http://www.beausoleilmaroquinerie.fr/sac-porte-main/1407-sac-a-main-24-heures.html#/770-ligne-24_heures/1206-couleur-pasteque

Fratelli’s in the 17th


Great restaurants are everywhere in Paris. Some are very fancy, and I love those on occasion. But our favorites are usually the friendly, quaint, neighborhood places where the locals hang out — where the food is great, and the service is friendly and welcoming. Restaurant Fratelli, over on Boulevard Malesherbes in the 17th, is just that kind of place. If you are ever in Paris and you’re craving Italian, THIS is the place to come.

My husband first discovered it through tripadvisor, where it’s rated #505 out of 13,396 restaurants in Paris — not bad for a simple little trattoria! It’s a lovely, little space, with brick walls, a gorgeous mirrored bar, black leather banquettes, and a large, outdoor dining room. The pizza they serve here is better than any I’ve found outside Italy, and their Carbonara is silky, creamy, salty…and perfect.

Leon had already been to the restaurant once before — on a business trip the year before we moved here. On that visit, the specialty of the day was a pizza made with truffles. Since he knows I’m a total truffle hound, he brought me back to Fratelli’s right after we moved to Paris, and told me to order the truffle pizza. Our adorable waitress, Anais, told me that unfortunately, the “Pizza Truffe” was no longer available, as it had only been a special item for a short while, months before. But she volunteered to go back to the kitchen to ask the chef if he would make it especially for me.

In just a moment, she came back to our table, winked, and told me that she was, in fact, dating the chef. So…of course, he would make me the special pizza.  Score!

Well, that pizza was heaven. I’d never tasted anything like it: crispy, wood-fired crust drizzled with truffle oil, shaved truffles and melted cheese, and finally, topped with a salad of fresh arugula, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Every couple of weeks or so, I’d get a craving for “Pizza Truffe” and we’d head back over to Fratelli. Each time we went for dinner, I’d look over all the beautiful things on the menu, thinking I’d try something new. But every time, like clockwork, as our sweet waitress, Anais, walked over, she’d smile at me and ask, “Pizza Truffe?” and I would laugh, and say, “Of course!” And that would be that. It didn’t matter that the kitchen hadn’t had that particular pizza on the menu for months. Truffle pizza was what I wanted, and she knew it. So, every time I came, she made it happen.

After a few months, I finally started trying some of their other beautiful dishes. The carbonara is insanely good, served with a raw egg yolk on top that you stir into the dish at your table, to make the sauce extra creamy. The linguini bolognese is subtle, but flavorful; the calamari is crisp and tender. And they have this wonderful red wine that they serve chilled — it pairs beautifully with almost every dish on the menu. Even their cappuccinos are heaven! In fact, everything I’ve ever tried here, has been great. And the service? Phenomenal.

From the moment you arrive, every single person in the restaurant makes you feel welcome. Every waiter, bartender and manager stops whatever they’re doing when you walk in, looks you in the eye, and with a big smile, says, “Bon jour!” You are shown to your table and the pampering begins. Every time I’ve been here, (and we’ve been here a lot) the waiters have been brilliant. Never interrupting the flow of our conversation, never drawing attention to themselves, but always slipping over to our table whenever they see the need: replacing carafes of water, pulling plates, bringing more bread. Every waiter is on constant alert…roaming around, making sure everyone is happy at all times.

And our adorable waitress, Anais? She’s the manager now! When we arrive, she still rushes over to give me kisses and ask how we are. And you know what else? Truffle Pizza is a standard item on the menu these days! Guess they realized how great it was, and decided to make it a regular thing. Well, that’s what I did with Fratelli…realized how great it was, and decided to make it a regular thing.

If you ever get a craving for home-style Italian food while you’re in Paris, trust me, Fratelli is the place to go.

Here’s the review on tripadvisor, just in case you’re interested! https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d6423637-Reviews-Fratelli-Paris_Ile_de_France.html

Fajitas in Paris


After all these love letters I’ve written about Paris, you might think I never get homesick, but you couldn’t be more mistaken. Surprisingly, the thing I’ve missed the most while living in France for more than a year is good, old fashioned Mexican food: homemade guacamole and margaritas, mostly. As hard as I tried, I hadn’t been able to find a single, passable Mexican joint in this city of 13,300 restaurants…UNTIL I found a quaint little place in Saint Germain called Fajitas. My husband, Leon, and I did a lot of desperate research on the internet trying to find somewhere that I could get a decent margarita on the rocks. Finally, we stumbled across reviews for this cozy little hideaway on Rue Dauphine, and we decided to give it a try. I’m so glad we did.

The restaurant is owned by a wonderful couple, married for 22 years. Amy is from the United States, western Massachusetts to be precise. Her husband, Miguel, is from Vera Cruz, Mexico. He is the chef for this little gem, and Amy handles the front of  house. The main floor only seats about 30, and the lower level can seat about 15 more in a pinch, but it’s used mainly for private parties. Don’t even think about coming here for dinner unless you book a few hours ahead. I’ve seen them turn people away at the door more than once, simply because there wasn’t enough room. It’s not a “turn ’em and burn ’em” kind of place either. Once you are seated at a table, it is yours until you want to leave — no rushing allowed.

Fajitas opened in 2001 and has been sold out every night that I’ve eaten there. The regular crowd seems mostly to be made up of Americans: both tourists and Expats. You’ll get the occasional French couple, but primarily, the language you hear at the tables is English with an American accent, another unexpected taste of home! Amy and Miguel had another restaurant before this one, and from what I understand, it was also a big hit, open for years. But, I think Fajitas is the restaurant they always wanted: small, friendly, crowded and fun…Just my style.

The interior is charming. It feels like the back patio of a grand hacienda somewhere in Old Mexico. Hanging from the ceiling are thick, ropey braids of garlic, strands of dried peppers and worn, old, terra-cotta pitchers. Lining the stone walls are decorative planter boxes stuffed to the brim with dried wheat instead of flowers. And since almost all of the tables seat only two to four people, the restaurant feels very intimate even when it’s filled to capacity (which it always is).

I have to say, to have a woman like Amy, with a good old American accent come to your table and ask in English what I’d like for dinner — well, that makes my night, in and of itself. Not to mention the fact that she is always floating around the restaurant, making sure everyone is happy and well cared for. She runs the register, brings the food, mixes the drinks and handles anything that comes up -before it can become a problem. If she sees a scarf on the floor, she quietly drapes it over the back of the owner’s chair. The second someone walks in the door, she drops what she’s doing to greet them with a smile. She’s like the perfect blend of circus ringmaster, CEO and Fairy Godmother.

Miguel is no slouch either. He makes this spicy salsa from scratch with three different kinds of peppers. It’s totally addictive. I put it all over everything. My husband, Leon loves it so much, he eats it with a spoon, like soup. Oddly enough, I’ve never tried the namesake fajitas here. I’m sure I will, but so far, my cravings have been all about their chicken enchiladas and homemade guacamole. And, somehow, these cravings are always accompanied by the desire for a good, strong margarita. Amy, acting bartender, never disappoints. I like that gal.

There are a lot of wonderful things about Paris, but to me, the best thing about Texas is our Mexican food. And this cute, little spot helps me get over my homesickness every time. I’ll always be grateful for that…and for the margaritas!

If you want to check it out for yourself, the Fajitas website is http://www.fajitasparis.com

April 1st – Poisson d’Avril


Did you know that the idea of April Fool’s Day actually originated in France?

In fact, the tradition dates all the way back to the 16th century.  Since then, the French have laughingly referred to the first day of April, not as April First, but April Fish (or “Poisson d’Avril”).

Why fish? Believe it or not, because of the Christian tradition of Lent. Giving each other a paper fish on the first of April was a way of gently poking fun at all the fish one was required to eat over Lent, having given up red meat until Easter.

The most popular trick played on this holiday is very old school. You cut out a piece of paper in the shape of a fish, and then stick it on the back of one of your friends. It’s that simple. The cut-outs can be plain or elaborately-colored and ornate. And the application of these fish can be anything from a good old “slap on the back” to much more elaborate plots in order to apply the cut-outs as sneakily as possible. When other people notice the fish on the person’s back, they point and shout “Poisson d’Avril!” Roughly translated, that means “YOU…are the April Fish!” School children in particular get a huge kick out of this game. They stick all kinds of paper fish on the backs of their friends, and sometimes, even their parents.

There are other pranks played throughout the day as well, of course. One of my favorites is done by the rail system in Paris. All day on April 1st, Homer Simpson tends to make the public announcements at the train station. Cute, right?

Of course, no tradition in France is complete without a food to commemorate it. And for Poisson d’Avril, it’s fish. All throughout Paris on April 1st, you’ll find plenty of chocolate fish to help you enjoy the holiday. Every chocolatier, boulangerie and patisserie has their own versions. If you would rather have real seafood, every restaurant in the city offers a fruit de mer special of the day as well.

Ever since the United States borrowed the concept of April Fool’s Day from the French, we’ve had to suffer through our friends’ practical jokes. My question is this. WHY, OH WHY, didn’t we steal the idea of chocolate fish too?   Ah well!

Bon Poisson d’Avril!

Our First Valentine’s Day In Paris


Believe it or not, the very first Valentine’s Day that Leon and I ever spent together was actually here in Paris. We’d only been dating for about three months at that point, but Leon had some work to do here in February of 2005, so he asked me to join him in Paris for two weeks over Valentine’s Day. I agreed with one condition. I made him PROMISE me that he would not ask me to marry him while we were here. I know that sounds crazy, but I was afraid we would both be swept up with the romance of Valentine’s Day in Paris, and I didn’t want us to rush into marriage before we were absolutely sure we were ready for that.

You see, I’m not a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of girl at all. I’m much more of a plodder. Since Leon was used to my inner control freak at this point, he happily agreed to that condition. He promised me that he wouldn’t propose, and we flew here for the holiday.

The weather in Paris for the month of February can be cold, dark and very rainy. But for those of you who want to visit, rest assured that there is no time of year, nor any weather when this city is not romantic. It’s magical that way. When people are coming to Paris for the first time, they tend to worry that the weather will be bad and spoil their trip. My reply is always the same. “Rain or shine, Paris is still Paris.” There’s just something in the air that floats over everything, leaving a rose-colored haze of romance in its wake.

Given that it was February, we were especially lucky with the weather. It was sunny and gorgeous every single day — but one. You guessed it…Valentine’s Day was dark, dreary and achingly cold. There were so many black clouds in the sky, it felt like twilight even at noon. Not to be deterred, Leon came up with a plan for the day. We would visit the Arc de Triomphe and then wander down the Champs Élysées doing a little window shopping. (A Texas girl getting carte blanche to shop all day? The man is a genius.)

When we arrived, we just huddled there under the shelter of the Grand Arch for a while and thought about how great this trip had been. Each day was better than the one before. As the clouds grew darker, we started walking down that beautiful boulevard, just peeking in shop windows and enjoying the day. Suddenly, in the window of a little jewelry shop, I spotted a gold Eiffel Tower pendant and squealed like a little girl. I thought it would be a perfect gift for my mother. But seeing how excited I was, Leon changed my mind. “Nope,” he said. “This is going to be for you.” Then he led me into the store.

We chatted with the sweet man behind the counter, and Leon told him that he wanted to buy the pendant for me. Then the little guys eyes started to sparkle and he rummaged around until he found a beautiful, red leather jewelry box etched in gold. He placed the pendant inside and wrote out some sort of certificate. (I have no idea what that was about. It was all in French.) When we stepped back outside into the darkness of the afternoon, I giggled and said, “Show me! Show me!”

Now, hand to God, this is the absolute truth. As Leon brought up the box between us and opened it to show me the pendant, suddenly one of those dark clouds split apart, and a beam of sun burst through. It was like a spotlight about ten feet across — with us in the center of the circle. The timing was so surreal that we both just started laughing. Then Leon caught my eye, smiled and said, “I know I promised, but it ain’t getting more romantic than this. So always remember this is where I asked you, and this is when I asked you. And you can answer me anytime you like.” At that point I got all weepy.

But of course, my inner control freak kicked in. I must say, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant compromise at the tiime.

Me: “OK. We can be engaged for 24 hours. That way, we can have the big, romantic Valentine’s evening, but we aren’t committed to anything when we get home. What time is it?”

Leon: “Four o’clock.”

Me: “OK then, we are engaged for the next 24 hours. And tomorrow at 4 pm, it evaporates.”

Leon (laughing): “Whatever makes you happy, honey.”

Me: “I love you so much.”

Leon: “I love you, too.”

And then we went on with our lovely day. We had a beautiful dinner in a quaint, out of the way restaurant that actually had a live accordion player just like you see in old French movies. We walked arm in arm along the Seine, cuddling together to stay warm and stay close. Later, when we got back to our hotel room, we stood on our tiny balcony and stared out at the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower while we talked about life. It was a perfect day.

The next morning, Leon took me shopping at Galeries Lafayette in search of a ring suitable for a 24-hour engagement. We found one. I still have it and still love it. Anyway, as we were riding on the escalator, Leon looked at his watch and said to me, “Well, it’s 3 o’clock. In one more hour, you’ll be free. How does it feel?” I thought about it for a minute and said, “Hmm. Not as good as I thought it would.” And that’s when he fist pumped the air with both arms and shouted “YESSSS!!!” at the top of his lungs. I really do think that was the moment I knew I was all in.

We’ve had other Valentine’s Days, of course. And I’ll tell you about them some day, but this one is still my favorite. Because this was the one where even though I was afraid, I knew I couldn’t let him go. That was the moment when I found my faith…and my future.