Friday, April 30, 2010

Weighing In

So there I was, at the Delta Airlines counter in the nicest of CDG's international terminals, E, and trying desperately to get back to the US. Because I had excess baggage, I had called ahead to get the skinny.

The I got to the counter with my four tiny suitcases and was told that I should pay 655 euros in excess. Whaaaat???

I tried to remain clam and spoke the magic word 'supervisor' through gritted teeth.

I explained to the suprviser that I had numerous small pieces because I had been responsible for housing two Volcano Refuges and the car did not have space for large pice of luggage. I explained that I had called ahead. I explained (and whinned) in English and in French.

In the end, it turned out that when I was ticketed, there were different luggage rules in place and that the airline was forced to honor those; that I was right. The supervisor was less than friendly but was efficient. The man behind the counter who had given me the very high quote, was rude and steaming fury (and volcanic ash).

The moral of the story:
* Don't believe what 'they' tell you, especially if you've investigated and had a conflicting report. There are a lot of bullies out there and airlines are out for every dime they can get from you. Possibly, there's a pirze to the counter agent who rings up the highest fee extras;
* Ask for a supervisor;
* Whenever possible, try to pay in USD rather than euros. Had i known I would have this problem, I could have bought the $50 vouchers in the US and saved some money...and aggravation.
* Fight back. Not only did I call for the supervisotr, and my fiddler's three, but i demanded a tape measure when Mr. Charm tried to tell me that my carry-on bag was too large and needed to be checked as yet another piece of luggage (for big bucks). I won.

Airline fees for checked baggage and for carry-on, or the rules regarding carry-on, are in a flux. It seems that the counter agents' job is to scare you into paying as much as possible. If they win the battle, they win...but for heaven's sake, give them a fight.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fabric Markets in Paris

In this city of haute couture, you can find designer fabrics by the meter in many posh stores in well-healed districts about town. But if you want a bargain, or just something edgy, you should go to the fabric markets.

The main fabric market, which occupies a hill right below Sacre Coeur, is called the MarcheSt. Pierre and it consists of many buildings on several streets and side streets. However, the really interesting fabric market is in the part of town called Little Africa, just north of Marche St. Pierre (walking distance).

For some really 'we're not in Kansas anymore' moments, take the metro to Chateau-Rouge, on the #4 line, just one stop past Barbes -- which can be used for the Marche St. Pierre (I happen to use Anvers, but it depends on what metro line you are using.)

People are very shy about being photographed or stared at, so don't oogle the women in their national dress, but do get a look at those made in Holland, Dutch wax prints that are famous from Senegal to Kenya. Exit the metro and turn right on the main street, following the rue Poulet (yes, chicken street) to several shops. Most are open by 10:30AM; several open at 9:30AM.

As per tradition, fabric is sold in five metre lengths. Never cut shorter, even if you beg. Costs are fixed for the length not multipled by five. The least expensive cottons are 15 euros (about $20 for five meters/yards) while the ones shot with gold wax can be $100 for the five meters.

The stores in this area have diverse names such as Little Haiti (who let them in?), African Queen, Beaute Afrique, Waxworks, etc. There are also myriad specialty groceries promising exoitque groceries; many beauty parlors and stores selling only wigs and hair extensions and a few street vendors selling knock-off DVDs and designer handbags.

While I wouldn't go here in the dead of night, it is perfectly safe in the day and is quite near the chic residential areas of Montmartre. Although I paid mostly cash, stores did take plastic.

If you are more traditional or want a wider range of possibilities, you want the district on the south side of the hill that leads up to Sacre Coeur. Exit the metro as described above (Anvers or Barbes) and head up the hill. My route is always exit Anvers and take the rue du Steinkerque, which has many jobbers and fabric stores. When the street dead-ends at the merry-go-round, turn right and shop more, ending up in a giant five story budiling called Dreyfus (not related to Jerome) and marked Marche St. Pierre.

Between the carrousel and the Dreyfus building, there are more stores and places offering 'coupons' (remnants) on one side of the street and there is the garrishly painted Halle Saint Pierre on the other-- this houses a museum, clean bathrooms and a great place for a guiche and salad lunch for about 10 euros per person. While not everything is dirt cheap and you do have to figure in the cost of changing money and the dollar/euro ratio, i bought three meters of linen for 23 euros in a remnant store and paid 10 euros for some home decor fabrics. Tassels for cushions were ten euro-cents each.

This is not the kind of adventure for a non-shopping person and there is some stamina required. Also note that on Monday, several of the stores (the most famous is named Reine) do not open until 2pm.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Melange Makes The Day

I don't know if I would define this as one perfect day in Paris, but the mixture of styles does represent my personality and friends and the springtime in the air here.

Started off at the Flea Market at the Porte de Vanves where I was very restained, bought three thrilling items and only spent ten euros. OK, one of them is a fishing basket for a friend and I will have to hand carry it on the plane, but she's a good friend ...and how successful can a trip be if you aren't lugging home some silly purchase?

Had lunch at The Ritz; my first time back in about ten years -- after I got turned away for not being a guest there when I went in for a hot chocolate on a wintry Saturday. Then took a taxi straight up the Champs Elysees to Monoprix, where I did the grocery shopping and bought a few new products to test, such as Nivea's new tinted foundation (seems to only come in one color -- sable (sand) -- but hey, that's my color) and Eugene brand hair color and uh oh, those nasty roots are out again and the Sally's color combo and 20% developer got shipped to Paso Robles.

Now I am about to meet my kids for a glamourous Parisian dinner on the Champs...they have asked to go to McDo!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Easter Bunny Freak Out

Somehow or another all the furniture got on the truck, all the neighbors shed some tears with me and we got on the road to Paris and, hopefully, our eventual return to California. Since this portion of my trip was arranged before I knew there would be three of us or that volcanoes would make us all so nuts, i booked into Dijon -- about halfway between Provence and Paris for tonight.

Yes, it could have been done in one go, but why push it when you can overnight in Dijon?

I have been coming here once a year for about ten years; i always stay at La Cloche Hotel, which is now Sofitel La Cloche. It's always been the grande dame hotel of town and is walking distance to everything, including Grey-Poupon which is now run by Maille although there really were a Monsieur Grey and his business partner Monsieur Poupon.

The hotel was shockingly nice when i explained that there were three of us now -- we got a junior suite with a sofabed and a view overlooking the park and the main shopping street. Do they know how to treat a Shopping Goddess or what?

Years ago the hotel was sorta shabby chic and rustic, now the outside is still a Haussmanien palace but the inside is very moderne and re-done Sofitel, complete with a big stash of L'Occitane bathroom amenities. Ceilings are high, there's French doors that open right onto the town.

All the local shopping you could want is right down the street-- starting with Maille and its enormous collection of flavored mustards, oils, olive spreads and even dish towels and totes. For those who are curious, Maille products are sold elsewhere in town, but the prices in the mother store are the best, as is the selection.

Aside from the seemingly three dozen different flavors and combos of mustards, there were three freshly made, in-house mustards from the pump (pompe) -- you buy a ceramic jar and they fill it for you, you can come back for a re-fill. The three fresh that day flavors were chablis (strong), white wine (so strong it made my nose run) and chocolate. This is not a joke! Nor is it a dessert. The idea for chocolate mustard came from the shop's suggestion box; it is an Easter special, limited edition creation and is tangy and amazingly good.

Despite the weight of the ceramic jars, i just had to buy a few as gifts.

Then I had to make my way one block over to the rue Musette, which is a pedestrian only tourist alley with two of my favorite TT's in the world, both sell flavored mustards and other gourmet food items. We had whittled down the baggage to account for the fact that there are three of us in the car, but now we need a new suitcase just for the mustard.

On the Rhone Again

Tons of stuff to report from volcanic adventures ;;; my kids are refuges of the storm and now with me enroute to packing of house, final trip to the neighborhood potter atelier; moving on, saying goodbye to neighbors and now the drive to Dijon. Tune in soon to learn all about Col. Mustard. With pix, bien sur. Im en retard with reporting because its been insane here. Stay tuned and forgive delays. Film at 11.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Suzy the Lyon Hearted

It is only one hour and a few minutes by train between Lyon and Geneva, so before and after my kids (my son Aaron and his wife Jenny) arrived, I checked into the Sofitel Bellecour for some eating and shopping and, uh, Born to Shop research. Ah Lyon, the second largest city in France, the heart of good eating and the gateway to Provence.

I come here often, but as well as I know it, I manage to make new discoveries. This trip was no different. Listen my children and you shall hear, of the yummy French dining by Suzy dear. And that cute little shop with fabrics that could have been designed by Lisa Corti.

From Geneva In Double Time

OK, I'm not the one stranded in Geneva and moving into an airport hotel and wondering when the volcanic ash will lift. That's my kids. I'm the one who planned and executed a fabulous weekend at the gorgeous InterContinental Geneva and took my son shopping for a watch for his 30th birthday.

more on all of it soon.

Friday, April 16, 2010

In Case of Natural Disaster

So here we are in beautiful almost - downtown, outrageously expensive Geneva on plan. It's just that, uh, not much else is on plan. We are in the midst of aninternaitonal weather disaster.

Thankfully I did not know the news about the volcanic/nuclear cloud of dust, so I blithely drove here as planned. My biggest fear as we loaded the car was that the road over the Alps would be scary.


After our gorgeous Alpine picnic, when my kids took time at the play ground, we got back in the car with my son driving the perfectly lovely Alpine highway, I went into a sudden and very nasty allergic reaction. Odd, I thought, but not unusual. Still, what could have triggered such a sudden and harsh reaction? I clutched my Epi pen as I swallowed Benadryl.

After checking into our gorgeous suite at the InterContinental Geneva, and settling back to unpack, set-up computer and study map of town, I received a phone call from Sarah Lahey, Editorial Director of Born to Shop, announcing that because of the disaster she had to cancel her trip to Istanbul and Paris.


We knew nothing. Even BBC was not reporting much. As she explained it all, I suddenly realized why I was wheezing.

The hotel concierge confirmed that the Geneva Airport was still open. The phone number listed for united Airlines in the phone book was for freight. There were no reports online that gave any serious information.

In short order we went through some immediate actions that I pass on now, as there were/ are some tricks to be remembered if/when this happens to you.

* Don't waste your time trying to call the airline.
* Don't waste the concierge's time thinking he can do better than you.
* Go directly to the airport with a pleasant frame of mind and courtesy written all over you. Stand in line and make friends. We watched a romance bloom. The TV news says not to go to the airport -- we found the opposite worked for us. Maybe because the Geneva airport is small, but it wasn't a long line and we were helped efficiently.
* Know your carrier's affiliations. For United Airlines, we had to go to the Lufthansa desk. If we hadn't been told that, we could have been hysterical looking for a non-existant United desk.
* Have some creative ideas in mind for solving the problem, but don't go crazy.
* Don't start trying to out-smart the computer. I was hoping to re-book my kis through Frankfurt to LA, through CDG because there are more options for US connections, etc. In the end, a smaller airport with only one flight has fewer passengers to worry about.
* Remember Peter Greenberg, the Travel Detective from CBS News and his facebook and twitter pages. I sent him a note and he explained about the tail numbers on planes, so that I can determine if the plane has departed the U.S. so that we can know if we will even have a craft when the time comes.

The kids were given boarding passes for Tuesday, which is a miracle. I suggested we all shake hands withe agent as would be polite in the European manners department. The agent doesn't want to shake hands with anyone. Too many germs (or was that Germans?) We all nodded like doodle dolls with heads on springs.

We were lucky in that we had driven and had a car and were not at the mercy of taxi fees. We were alsolucky that we had chosen a hotel very close to the airport. We were also lucky that we had a computer, could go online and find another hotel for the added on delays, as this hotel is over the top in design and luxury ...and price.

We will check out as planned on Sunday and the kids will move to a Ramada (Ramada Park Geneva, $170 a night) near the airport with a free shuttle to the airort and a free bus pass for getting into town -- we booked it on and then went over there in person to make friends and check it out. It seems well chosen...and it's on the #10 tram line which leads to the airport, to town and to a nearby mall with fabulous grocery store, Migros. In a disaster and a city as expensive as Geneva, we all need to know where there's a good grocery store.

For ocmparison, the InterConti -- which is the most chic hotel in Geneva--starts at $450 a night for the least expensive room. It is gorgeous here, and we are in a suite with a Lake Leman view, but it's not possible to stay any longer than planned. This was a working trip, meant to last two nights, not four. But Tony Chi is a design genius and if you want some place really chic to be stranded -- this is the hotel for you. The breakfast buffet is amazing and we're anticipating the famed Sunday Brunch.

Yes, it's a three day delay and the financial losses involved for my kids -- who will miss work without pay --are staggering. The price of a small pizza in Geneva is $25. It will not be a honeymoon in Paradise. But, as the old saying goes -- when rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it.

Now we're off to work, I will be writing a Postcard to Peter ( all about Geneva, the amazing things the hotel did when they discovered it was my birthday (from my passport), all about the Tony chi designs and our meal at Woods, her eint he hotel -- foie gras stuffed ravioli.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blogged Down

I promise to catch up, write more interesting reports, attach video from the new little flip camera, and add a picture to this page ...ASAP. Instead, i will tell a little story to explain why I haven't done any of the above yet.

My house closed on Monday, April 12. The bank here is closed on Mondays.
On Tuesday, although the bank was open, their computers were down.
On Wednesday, when they saw the heap of euros now in my account, they called me to come in with legal documents 'justifying' the sum to ascertain that I am not a drug lord.
Today, Thursday, they said they couldnt wire that sum from France without a written and faxed confirmation from my US bank and a character reference from that bank.

And you ask if I will miss France, if I am sad to leave, if my heart is breaking...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Outlets On the Route

I have been to the outlet mall village of Marques Avenue many times. Perhaps a dozen. But I have always arrived from the north, while driving from Paris or Lyon and heading down the A7 toward my home in the northern Vaucluse.

So here's the deal. The exit number when you are driving south is #13, but when you are driving north, the highway said to exit at I did. To tell you I was lost and almost in Grenoble is not an exageration. I was following signs for ROMANS, and suddenly there were none. I decided to backtrack, took an off-ramp and then hit a round about, but then fell upon the N49 highway, pointing toward Romans and the shoe-making capital of France. Phew; I eventually got there.

I would have to look at a map or a crystal ball to understand exactly where Romans in located, although on all my trips I have arrived via one route and left on another. So today, I got there in reverse. Either way, it's a bit of a schlep once you leave the highway, so be patient. It's very much worth it.

With prices as high as they are in France (who cares if the dollar is stronger, things are still crazy expensive), it was a treat to finally find my way across the river Isere and into town. Although I was at Marques Avenue just a year ago, there were many new stores and even a new layout to enjoy. Construction was banging on about me, with more stores coming.

I'd tell you which ones if I knew ...or if anyone there would talk. The place seems to be very hush-hush, like 'don't mention the war'. I was threatened by a security guard when I took a photo of the logo sign (above) and no vendors would let me take pictures (or notes)inside their stores. Maybe this is a CIA front. I guess you'll have to come to France in person to see the new colors at Le Creuset. (Turquoise.)

Marques Avenue is not the best outlet mall in France (the one at Marne Le Vallee outside of Paris is the best here), but it's come a long way in a few years and is seemingly getting more yummy each year. I parked in front of the Lindt outlet. Yes, I am going to Switzerland next week -- but why wait when there's an outlet in front of you?

All of the Easter products were obviously on sale, but when I chose a giant sized box og Lindor bonbons, 25% was deducted at the cash register. Now if I can get 25% deducted from my hips, we'll be in business.

It's some sort of promotion time at the outlet mall, so most stores had sales with 30-50% off their everyday low prices. I was so dumbfounded by prices at bedlinen maker Anne Solene, that I begged to be excused for asking dumb questions (I played the 'estranger' card) but was the marked price 50% off or was it again another 50% off?!!

And so my pre-birthday party began at Anne Solene-- I got to deduct another 50%, making duvet covers cost from 25-40 euros, which is damn good in France. I even bought a set of duvet cover plus two pillow cases (another 16 euros, svp) for Sarah for her birthday in June. Everybody celebrates today!

I could maybe do better on these items price-wise in the U.S., but not style cum price-- not any where. And the linens are made in Lille, not China. (I've been to the factory.)

There are numerous home style shops at Marques Avenue; most were too expensive for me even with an outlet price tag on their goods. There are several children's boutiques; no interest for me. I avoided the clothing stores, although for editorial purposes only went into Venti Stock, the Ventilo outlet and Nitya, my favorite French brand, which is sort of a floating, Indian, ethnic look great for people who eat too much chocolate.

There's also Spanish outlets, such as Mango and then the sports brands and several cookwares store -- besides the polite but firm people at Le Creuset.

The bathrooms are clean; there are two sandwich shops; the parking is free. Despite grey skies and scattered showers, it was a beautiful day in France.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Monday Specials

Today is Easter Monday, which is a big holiday in France. They don't seem to do Good Friday, but there's no school today and things are pretty dead. I can't wait for tomorrow which is market day in my village as well as my manicure day and, ouch, my meeting regarding my taxes due on the selling of my house. But tomorrow is another day.

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, was cold and wet so I spent most of the day upstairs in my house at the computer. I don't like to heat the upstairs and the downstairs at the same time (I am, after all, French) so I decided to stay in the cocoon and write with brief trips to the kitchen.

By this morning, I was so desperate to get outdoors that I drove to Ste. Cecile des Vignes, about 20km away which has been advertising a brocante, or flea market special event for Easter Weekend. In real life, I go to this town every Saturday for market and have been to their flea markets many times...but I needed to get out and knew I would enjoy the ride across the vines, past Rasteau and to Ste. Cecile. It's a cold and windy day, but the sun is bright and the sky is clear. You can see the lime atop Mt. Ventoux and even snow on the far off Alps.

The flea market was a piddling little affair, with few vendors and fewer shoppers. Worse yet, msot of these vendors were on the circuit, so I had already seen them (and their wares) in Vaison and in Beaumes de Venise. The same old white high-chair for sixty euros is still bouncing around the hills. I priced a vase (60E) which was nuts and a bistro table, also 60E-- which I probably could have bought for 50E but then it's one more thing to ship. At a certain point, even a shopping goddess has to say 'Basta! enough!'

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fish & Dream Cottages

Today is April 1rst (i think) which may be April Fools to most, but its Poisson d'Avril here...although today has not been very fishy. In medieval time, a red paper fish was attached to someone's clock at tush level and everyone else could only you could snicker in medieval times. The prank became the basis for the April Fools joke, but here most people just eat chocolate fish.

Not me. I spent the day looking at shops for Born to Shop and then touring my friend Dominique's house, which she has really spruced up since the last time I saw it and which I have now convinced her should be offered up for rent a few weeks each season (

She lives in Le Cannet, an official city of its own located above Cannes,above the traffic of Cannes and closer to the A8 autoroute for getting around the towns and villages. It is a sorta teeny house that is everyone's dream. A giant terrace, a large open, modern kitchen, big living salon and smallish bedroom -- who wants more?

Her home is on one level, below is her separate office and then there's a large studio apartment, where her son lives. She bought a truly ramshackle little house and has spent many years making it into a gem. If you've ever dreamed of a little cottage in Cannes, this is the one. Andnow she will rent it out to a lucky few.

The house is bright white (just painted) with olive green shutters and tons of flowering plants along the gates, driveway and terrace. There's a dozen lemons on her lemon tree. Her cat sits in the sun. The house is filled with light and then brightened even more with yellow walls and white furniture. I will load in my fotos as soon as I can get the Internet to co-operate.

The house has a huge terrace, so we sat outside in the perfect Cote d'Azur sunshine and ate poulet roti and potatoes. Well, I ate the potatoes and she had endive. She's staying on her diet; I am eating everything in sight.

It was one of thosemagic moments when you don't even have to talk -- you just enjoy a friend of almost 20 years' time, the sun, the mustard and the fact that life can be very good. Especially in Cannes.