Friday, October 31, 2008

My Genie In Paris

Planning a trip to Paris?  There are a million ways to go about the task of getting oneself there and then figuring out what one needs to do and see.  The fact that every single street offers some new and interesting shop or restaurant doesn't help.  It can be overwhelming and disappointing often times if you don't have a least some idea of where to go.  A friend of mine has taken it upon himself to make sure that vacation disasters to the City of Lights can be avoided.  

My Genie in Paris, a company started by a young and very personable French entrepreneur, takes all the guesswork out of planning your trip to Paris.  From start to finish, Stephane and his staff can guide you to hotels and apartment rentals that fit all budgets and will put together an itinerary for individuals, groups or families based on where your interests lie.  A preliminary online survey will get the ball rolling and on arrival in Paris, a concierge will meet you at your hotel with all the information and tickets you might need.  In addition, this team of experts knows the city inside and out and can give you personalized tips from where the best breakfast in Paris is (you've got to try it) to nightlife that tourists would easily miss out on.  

They have taken great pains to gather together some of the most interesting "off the beaten" track activities which you can take advantage of.  Spend a morning learning the ins and outs of a true Parisian boulangerie followed by an afternoon creating your very own perfume.  That's just the beginning of what's available to you.  This team of born and bred Parisians left no stone unturned  searching for the best experience possible while visiting Paris. 

Taking all the guesswork and stress out of planning a trip, My Genie in Paris is really the way to go for a unique and successful visit to the City of Lights.

Additional information:  My Genie In Paris  
Photo credit:  ancama 99(toni)@flickr

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vote: It's Your Voice

I am the least political person you could run into.....or should I say the least politically overt person you'd come across.  My beliefs and convictions are strong yet airing them in public isn't something that I am overly comfortable with.  The French class that I am currently enrolled in asks us to discuss politics in French of all things, and while I find it complicated to discuss in English, trying to get your point across with a limited number of words at hand forces one to take their beliefs to their most basic and be as succinct as possible.  It is certainly an exercise in processing information to the least common denominator.  Political rhetoric gets tossed aside for appropriate verb conjugation.  

On my way to class today I voted.  Here in Chicago we have a window of a week before election day where we can visit any one of fifty polling places to make our voice heard.  This wasn't available to me in our last presidential election and I remember voting day being a bit insane.  Today was less so, although being in the middle of a city with three million residents is never going to be without its glitches.  Lines were long (a good sign--people are voting) and the ballot here went on forever.  Six pages of people and positions I was unfamiliar with.  So I voted.  One check mark for the next president of our country. 

I may not tell you who to vote for or who I voted for but I would tell you TO vote:  it's your voice.  

Photo credit:  Enrico Fuente@flickr

Monday, October 27, 2008

Chippendale's at the Opera: Who Knew?

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I at the last minute decided to catch an opera here in Chicago.  The Lyric Opera House is a splendid venue to take in a performance and their productions are some of the best in the country.  

On this particular night, we purchased nosebleed seats to see Georges Bizet's, Les Pêchers de Perles or The Pearl Fishers, a tail of love, denial, friendships, broken promises and someone having to die....typical opera stuff.  I am not making fun, but seriously, without having read the 
story line in the program, I was able to predict at least three quarters of what took place.  There was a twist at the end that I really did not see coming so at least there was an element of surprise.  And, unlike those five to six hour Wagnerian sagas (what is that about??),  this opera was about two and a half hours.  Your rear end won't fall asleep if you should go see this one! 

When I speak of elements of surprise, I should really say that there were two:  one in the story line and the other that was much more fascinating....a hunky, well-built guy was performing the lead.  Nathan Gunn, playing the role of Zurga, totally took me by surprise as he decided to perform the entire opera 'topless', 'shirtless', whatever you want to call it.  Seriously, this was a FABULOUS idea!!  Now that I think about it, I could have easily sat through 5 hours of having him run around the stage, dealing with all the themes operas deal with, singing in a language that I don't understand.  It just wouldn't matter.  Even from our nosebleed seats, he was adorable. Apparently, this is a common occurrence for Mr. Gunn, singing without his shirt on. If you look like him, you could quite possibly do just about anything without one!!  I can't speak from experience, but I am thinking it might be similar to seeing a Chippendale show only there was some really good singing.  I see much potential in the marketing of this kind of thing.  And in all fairness to the males in the audience, the female lead, Nicole Cabell playing Leila, was somewhat scantily clad (tastefully) and beautiful to boot.  

This week, we are off to see Manon, which too, is getting rave reviews here in Chicago.  I did my homework and know that Mr. Gunn is not performing in this opera, therefore, everyone will have their clothes on.  I can only hope it isn't five hours long!!

Take a peek....oh, almost forgot.  Eric Cutler, playing Nadir is topless too!  It's all good.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gertrude Stein Gets It

I have had an ongoing fascination with Gertrude Stein for awhile.  Her influence on modern art and literature cannot be ignored, promoting Picasso and Matisse in the 1920's, showcasing their work in her 'salon' at 27 rue du Fleurus in Paris or coaxing genius out of  Thorton Wilder and Earnest Hemingway in the 30's through her thoughts on language.  I have read many of her works and much that has been written about her but only recently have come to understand her true impact.  

Paris, France, is a slim volume, published in 1940, which gets down to the nitty gritty of being "French".  She observes her adopted countrymen and breaks them down to their bare essentials, accurately revealing what makes them tick.  For example, her observation on French men:  

In France a boy is a man of his age the age he is and so there is no question of a boy growing up to be a man and what is the use, because at every stage of being alive he is completely a  man alive at that time.
This then leads to a Frenchman's relationship with his mother and while my personal experience is limited, I observed enough in my year in Paris to know that she is spot on.  Not only with this concept but all that she touches on.  It is the only book I have read that I actually took a highlighter to so I could go back and review. 

You are probably thinking, did Kim get that quote right?  It feels as though some words or punctuation marks are missing.  No, I didn't get the quote wrong and yes, you would be right.  Her style of writing is jarring and at times takes a few re-reads which is why I also have to recommend a second book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist.   Johan Lehrer takes a fascinating look at artists, musicians and writers who challenged the obvious and took their work in another direction, all being criticized at the time yet eventually being recognized as genius' in their field.  It is here that I learned about Ms Stein's attempt to truly understand language. Taking it to its most basic form is what makes it so jarring for us as readers as it is unexpected. Our brains aren't used to seeing words put together in such a way and processing their meaning takes additional work on our part.  All the artists in this book attempted to change the hardwiring of the observers brain.   Mr. Lehrer does a great job of subtly teaching the complexities of neuroscience and how these individuals opened up a whole new way of looking at things that today we take for granted.   

OK--so those are my highbrow thoughts for the day.  They, highbrow thoughts, are few and far between for me so I share them when I can.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Just got back from a whirlwind, exhausting trip to New York City.  I must say, over these last few months of traveling there with my daughter for her orientation, helping her move into her dorm and attending Parent's weekend over the last 4 days, my knowledge of the city is more than I thought it would ever be.  I get around like a pro either by foot, metro ( I know, subway but metro sounds better to me) or my last choice, cab.  The island of Manhattan has shrunk considerably for me and I can get much out of a long weekend there.  I have to admit, I love it.  

On arrival, as we took a cab from Laguardia, my older daughter, the art history major, let out a gasp which scared the crap out of me as we were on the wildest cab ride ever (I do fear for my life in some of them!!) and thought we were headed right over an embankment.  Lucky us, it was only 'BANKSY'.

Scattered throughout lower Manhattan, one comes across giant works of art on sides of buildings or smaller, quick doodles of graffiti on boarded up doorways that are credited to Banksy, the British graffiti artist that remains unknown to those who love him and those that he irritates with his work.  He is a household name in England yet to get to the bottom of who exactly he is, is still a work in progress.  

Elusively, he moves about the world, literally, from London to the West Bank, along the streets of New York, throughout the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina and even "installs" his work in museums around the world when no one is looking--a Mona Lisa with a smiley face landed in the Louvre and the Tate Britain--only to be quickly removed.   

He is an art rebel--pointing out how crazy the art world has become when his stencil-like work done on canvas sold for over $500,000 at Sotheby's in 2007.  His anti-war, anti-establishment, anti-capitalist views oddly have made him a very wealthy rebel.  Wonder how he feels about that?

Additional information:   BanksyWikipedia, The New Yorker

Photo credit:  Personal collection,

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Weekend in New York

This would be the view that my daughter, Kylie, a freshman at NYU wakes up to each morning. Some of you would love to wake up to this and others, not so much.  New York, as she is discovering is not for the faint hearted.  Life, college included, is not easy.  Instead of a bucolic, self-contained campus, she literally lives as New Yorkers do--meaning every person for him/herself.   Two months into this new experience, she still is uncertain how she feels about the whole thing.  

This weekend is Parent's Weekend.  My husband, daughter Taylor and I are heading to the Big Apple to see what this place is all about.  Oddly enough, the university has only one planned event and 'suggests' where students should take mom and dad over the weekend.  With my twins having just graduated from the University of Notre Dame which is the antithesis of NYU on every level we laugh at how relaxed and hands off they are about EVERYTHING at this place.  

So we have made this into a fall weekend in New York with us girls dragging our guy around Fifth Avenue to shop, to little tea salons for afternoon treats and a visit to the Met or MOMA or both depending on how much time we have.  

As we go along, I will stop by to say hey!!

Photo credit:  velouria57@flickr

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The other night I miraculously was able to convince my husband that dinner out needed to be sushi at a restaurant I love here in Chicago.  I say miraculously because this man is meat and potatoes all the way.  Get an innocuous piece of cheese or anything made with eggs near him and he's convinced he will die.  Little does he know how much actual cheese and eggs he has eaten over the years.  To be sure, if I am making the meal, one or the other is going to be covertly included.  Actually, the game I've played with myself over the years of feeding him these things has been fun.  Yes, I know I'm evil.  Amazingly and gratefully he is still alive!

Back to sushi.  I love it and yes, it can be a bit off-putting, all that raw fish and plastic looking tofu.  However, in my infinite wisdom, I suggested a place that had cooked entrees as well--lots of tempura and even Japanese 'chicken nuggets' so I knew that we'd be ok. 

Kamehachi is one of the first sushi restaurants here in Chicago, opening up their first place on Wells Street when no one in the mid-west even knew what sushi was.  Now that it (sushi) has mainstreamed itself into our consciousness, their restaurants are the place to be.  The decor of the location that I go to is based off a traditional Japanese tea house.  It's located below street level and as you enter you just feel as though you are passing into another world. While the space is cavernous, it feels intimate through their use of lighting and translucent shoji screens.  

Entering the space is calming enough but the dining ritual begins as the waiter brings you a hot towel to 'freshen up' with.  I LOVE this idea.  Sort of preparing oneself for a meal.  All the dishes to be used for your meal are artfully laid out according to what sauce is being served with each dish, who ordered what etc.  It is mesmerizing and calming just to watch them prepare my place. 
The show really begins for me as I watch the chefs prepare all these magnificent sushi entrees. What an art.  And a process which really takes one deeper into what they do moment to moment.  Having to focus like that in a concentrated effort.  It just leaves me feeling that mindlessness is everywhere but when I walk into this place that gets put aside for honoring the moment.  The whole dining experience really becomes much richer.  I find myself eating the food differently--almost with respect after seeing how much work and concentration went into preparing each individual sushi.  Feeling perfectly sated, I walk home realigned somehow and just feel better.  

Ritual--it needs to be a bigger part of my life.

Additional information:

Photo credit:  starrise@flicker, Kamehachi, yoshiko314@flicker 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Journey from the Past: The Orient-Express

When I think of the Orient Express, I think of traveling by train in the ultimate lap of luxury--wood paneled cocoons of soft lighting offering gourmet meals in the dining car or comfort that even home might not provide in the drawing rooms.  I also think of murder and intrigue as the journey makes its way through mountainous terrain, the train's interior thrown into darkness as it passes through pitch black tunnels only to emerge with a who done it scenario on one's hands.  The fabled 'Murder on the Orient Express' took place on the long distance passenger train known for travel between Paris and Istanbul, with multiple stops along the way depending on what era you're talking about.  

In 1872, Belgian entrepreneur, Georges Nagelmackers, created Compagnie Internationale des Wagon-Lits, catering to sleeping car services throughout Europe.  His inspiration came about after traveling across the United States on Pullman night trains.  His vision was to create a similar style of travel across boarders in Europe, infusing those journeys with high end luxury. The premier journey started at Gare de l'Est in Paris on October 4, 1883.  A complicated route which included two separate train rides and a 14 hour ferry ride, dropped passengers off at their final destination, Istanbul.  In 1889, the train route from Paris to Constantinople was complete, offering twice weekly departures with a total travel time of 67 hours.  Wow!  I get ancy on an 8 hour flight to Europe!!  Somehow, I don't think economy class on any airline is going to compare to what I might have found back then.   

In July, 1914, the Orient Express service was suspended due to war.  In 1919 it started up again and with numerous stops, starts and new routes, it continued service to Istanbul until 1977.  A shorter version between Paris and Vienna ran until 2007.  With the advent of the TGV in France, their fabulous high speed train, the Orient Express is all but lost to a shortened trip between Strasbourg and Vienna.  

You are in luck however if this romantic type of travel appeals to you.  Venice-Simplon-Orient Express is a company that caters to train travel with luxury that I am sure wasn't available in the train's heyday.  Offering packages that take you to a combination of the most fantastic cities in Europe, you can savour the "travel" as well as the destination.  

Beware!  This type of travel does not come cheap!  An eight day excursion between Paris and Vienna that leaves on October 15th (I believe that is this Wednesday) goes for $24,750/per person.  Hmm.  I am speechless which hardly ever happens to me!!  Perhaps if you're lucky, there still might be room.  

Additional Information:  Venice Simplon-Orient-Express,
                                              The Orient Express
                                              Good Magazine: Wanderlust

Monday, October 13, 2008

À la belle étoile

Today I am redirecting you into the great big blog world to visit a young woman's latest addition to all that is fun about blogging.

Lindsay, my daughter, is documenting her year living and teaching in Nevers, France, a small town in the Burgundy region (lucky her and all that wine!!).  Her posts have been revealing in what it is like to be the "American" in a small French town, how her young students feel about our country and her photos are and will continue to be amazing as photography is one of her great passions. 

So if you have a moment and want to spend some time with one of my favorite people in the whole world, stop by her site, à la belle étoile and say hi.  

Photo credit:  L. Poulin

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Summer Love in October

Today was magnificent.  What a little bonus having a beautiful summer like weekend for all to enjoy here in Chicago.  My daily walk along the lake was shared with hundreds of others--biking, boating, running and sun bathing.  Yes, those worshippers of that fireball in the sky were soaking up as much of it as they could....I cannot tell a lie.  I took advantage and got my daily dose of vitamin D as well.  Hope your day was just as amazing.  

Photo credit:  andyatkinson@flickr

Friday, October 10, 2008

Musée Jacquemart-André

It has been some time since I've written about a specific place in Paris that I hold near and dear to my heart so today is the day to revisit one of my favorite spots. 

Musée Jacquemart-André is right up there as one of the best museums in the city.  Of course, one needs to do the Louvre and the d'Orsay but in the event that a tourist has extra time (I am not suggesting that this museum is only "extra-time" worthy but I understand time constraints when it comes to a week-long visit in Paris and how does one choose what to see), a visit to this gem is well worth it. 

This beautiful space started out as the home of Édouard André, descendent of a famous banking family, and his wife, Nélie Jacquemart, a well-known society portraitist.  The couple devoted their life to travel, mainly Italy, bringing back a collection of art that is one of the finest of Italian art in France.  After Monsieur André's death, his wife continued to fill their home with works from all over the world, including the Orient, to complete their dream.  Once the mansion was adequately filled, the museum was bequeathed to the Institut de France and opened its doors to the public in 1913.  

My love for this museum stems from the fact that first, it is a wonderful love story about two people who met as a result of art (Madame Jacquemart was commissioned to paint Monsieur André's portrait) and they shared their passion not only with each other but were committed to sharing it with the world.   Without being totally overwhelmed you are able to come in contact with magnificent works from around the world in a most intimate setting. No, you will not find the Mona Lisa here, but your experience will be much richer as you are welcomed as a guest in this handsome home. 

An added bonus is taking in a light snack, lunch or Sunday brunch in the thé salon, regaled as one of the best in Paris.  On warm, sunny days, a spot on the terrace is a coveted table for tourists and Parisians alike.  

Additional information:  Musée Jacquemart-André

Photo credit:  Wikipedia

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Do You Polyvore? You Should

I'm not sure if it's because occasionally my daughters and I find ourselves with no lives and we really dig for something to occupy our little minds, but over the summer, my daughter, the fashion/costume/foreign language/travel lover found a fun website that ended up becoming one of our favorite sites and provided us girls with hours of entertainment.

Polyvore (we still don't understand the name) is a crazy site that allows you to upload your favorite fashion items; ones that you lust for or already have and create little vignettes or ways to put together outfits.  You can tap into what others have uploaded as well and select from thousands of shoes, handbags, dresses, skirts, pieces of jewelry and other accessories in addition to backgrounds that either inspire or enhance the outfits that you have created.

When nights were really slow, we made up games to play....with a 5 or 10 minute time limit we would have to come up with...."What we would wear to accept our Oscar for Best Actress"...."What Mom should wear as mother of the bride", or we would select a background or item of clothing that had to be included in the final product and see where it took each of us.  

Now you might be thinking who IS this woman?? but, seriously, there is a total upside to this little game.  After having done it numerous times, I came to look at my closet as the Polyvore website and realized that I could put my clothes together in ways that I had never thought of before. Overnight, I doubled the size of my wardrobe.  Now when I shop, I am mindful of what I have and what I need that would work best with all of it--hopefully eliminating unnecessary purchases or worse, ones that are total mistakes.  

You really have to try it.  It is one of those guilty pleasures that unlike me, you might not want to admit to but can't get enough of.  When my daughter has an especially cute outfit on as she heads out to work we both smile and know she was "Polyvoring" again.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Looking For a Good Wrinkle Filler

It has been far too long since my last post.  Events taking place have left me feeling empty and lost.  Sounds very dramatic I know, but it isn't really as bad as all that.  Transitioning.  That's what I have been doing and I'm not convinced that I am the most spectacular "transitioner".  It is taking me a while to get used to my new skin:  skin that is saggy and baggy right now as it needs to be filled with the new me.  Sort of like this sharpei puppy that needs to grow into its wrinkly skin.   

Last night over wine and tapas, my daughter and I were talking about where we see ourselves right now.  Both of us had this image of a hallway.  She looks at hers as long and dark with light at the end that she is working towards.  Mine oddly enough, was horizontal.  Closed doors were behind me, more closed doors were in front of me and in the darkness of the hallway I feel panic as I work my way to find the doorknob I am supposed to turn next.  

Currently, the best I can do is be patient and open to what I need to do next.  That isn't easy and can be draining emotionally but I have over the years learned how to stay upbeat when things just aren't going well.  So I have that going for me.  Putting aside this blog and not writing wasn't the best thing as I realize while I write this how much I missed it and the connections I have made by writing it.  So, slowly, I will get back into making this part of my world again.

Who knows.  Maybe this is one of the knobs I am supposed to turn.