Friday, December 14, 2018

Friday

Falling back into old routines is so easy! Too easy, in fact. I wish something within me would resist: I'm back from a trip, let me innovate, try a new approach. At least a new breakfast cereal! But no. Ed and I drove up to the farmhouse just before midnight, I unpacked, tidied and settled in for a wonderful night in the old farmhouse bed. But not for too long: up early, because, well, it's Friday and I must shop and of course, eat a good breakfast with a chatty Ed...


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A Friday is a Friday is a Friday, after all.

The good weather traveled back with me and we have sunshine and just above freezing temps -- much like I had in Paris! But of course, the landscape here is now a subdued brown, tucked in for the season, resting, resting, until spring.

(The three youngest girls, enjoying the sunshine.)


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In the afternoon, I am excited to be picking up Snowdrop again.


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We play! Oh, do we play! Restaurant and the angry neighbors continue to be favorites.


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In our game, the idea of "hot chocolate on a cold winter's day" comes up. Would you like to try some real hot chocolate? From Angelina's over on the other side of the ocean? In her eagerness, she climbs onto the top of the counter. And stirs. And sips ecstatically.


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Evening, One more moment of farmette play over by the great willow, the I take her home.


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Sparrow is just waking up from his nap...


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"There, I'm awake!!"


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A little more play...


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... and it's time for me to go home. Home, where the moon shines and the air is sparkly crisp.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

from Paris to the farmette

This trip belongs to the ones with countless lucky breaks. Apart from the delayed suitcase, nothing went awry. Connections have all been smooth, pleasant in fact. The weather? Magnificent, especially now, in these last days in France.

True, this morning was chilly for Parisians. They start looping their scarves twice around when the temperature dips to the freezing point and last night it did indeed dip. I was up early enough to feel it.

It's rare that I can get the late afternoon flight back to the U.S. -- the cheaper fares go quickly. But this time I did get it, leaving me with a whole extra morning in Paris. I wasn't going to waste it sleeping.

I want to take several little walks -- the first, to a bakery. Snowdrop has a teacher who is from Paris and when she learned that I was going for a visit to her beloved city, she told me that I should definitely pop into the Bruno Solques boulangerie (bread and pastry shop). She actually passed on many tips and I did with them what we all do when people give good advice -- we mean to follow it, but somehow the days run away with us and so we don't. At least I'm on it this morning! Even before breakfast!

The bakery is in the neighborhood of the university, so not too far from my hotel, but I take little detours, including to the park.  I've spent almost no time in the Luxembourg Gardens. This morning, I am in love with its emptiness: there is only the occasional hurrying person, cutting through to get to work, or school.


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I look at this young girl and wonder about her day. Does she have a sweetie? A best friend maybe? Is she enjoying the quiet of this morning as much as I am? Does she love her city, or does she take it for granted, in the way that most of us take our home towns for granted?


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(Early morning frost: it doesn't last and the flowers seem quite undisturbed by it.)


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The sun is barely up, but that says nothing about the earliness of the hour. A Paris sunrise today is at 8:37. (Warsaw's sunrise is a whole hour earlier, but the sun sets there at 3:23, where as in Paris, you get to see it until 4:53.)

Oh, how pretty are the tones of a winter morning! Hi, Eiffel Tower!


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Here's Bruno Solques, the bakery. The teacher had told me it's quirky. I didn't quite understand how a bakery could be quirky.


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I understood once I entered the small space. First of all, Bruno presides. He stalls me for a minute as he rushes to the back, where I see him move something around in the oven, releasing big clouds of steam as he opens the huge door. The smell is so yeasty and good that it is hard to even imagine that I will soon have to leave this piece of heaven.


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Bruno is a character, but the real funkiness comes through in the decor. The breads, too, are an unusual assortment of crusty loaves and yeasty buns, but what makes you look twice is the huge ceramic animal staring at you from behind the breads and sweet rolls. Giraffes, pigs, unicorns -- you'll find them at Bruno's.


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I ask if the brioche buns with chocolate would stay fresh until tomorrow. But of course!! Bruno speaks with exclamation marks. I want to take some back for the teacher who rhapsodized about them back in Madison. And Snowdrop. And Ed.
How many do you want?
I ask for ten, he throws in at least 12 or 13. They come in all kinds of shapes -- some larger than others and they are loaded with the chocolate you'll typically use for your pain au chocolat.

For the rest of the day, my carry-on bag smells of fresh brioche bread.

I walk back through the park. Why not -- it's so very lovely!


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I drop off the rolls at the hotel and make my way to Les Editeurs for a quick breakfast.


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(Before me, a woman enters with her pooch poking out from her purse.)


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The place is crowded yet again. A half a dozen women my age cluster around several tables, talking with great animation. There are, too, the usual serious looking men, the couples, the singles reading the paper, and then there is this large group of students.


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Still, you can always find an empty table. I settle in for my one croissant and coffee. If I'm going to be sitting in an airplane for so many hours, I don't need to load up on French baked goods.


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And after, I do something that is becoming more and more rare for me -- I walk over to the Right Bank.

(Still on the Left, I am just in love with the sunshine! Such pretty shadows it casts on  this row of houses!)


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Over the bridge I go.


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The Paris on the other side of the river is like a whole 'nother city to me. It feels crazy loud. Wide boulevards and large squares would be lovely if only you'd remove all the cars, trucks and buses. Commercially, there seem to be extremes: there are the souvenir shops with a million items screaming love for Paris and there are the expensive stores where you'll see no price tag on any item because the people who shop here just don't care how much it costs. The parks are fine and the area around the Louvre Museum is quite pretty...


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(And relatively peaceful)


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(The ferris wheel is just at the eastern corner of the Tuileries Garden...)


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And to be fair, if you walk away from this central hub and meander into the Marais to the east or the tony 16th Arrondissement to the west, or the funky cool 10th to the north -- you're in for a pleasant surprise. But just across the river, the traffic swirls and honks and leaves you dizzy and I am always happy to come back to the relative quiet and calm of the neighborhoods on the Left.


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(Narrow streets,  church towers, old lamps...)


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And now it's almost noon and I have to hurry.

I have to say, my two bags are unpleasantly full and heavy. This is the problem with traveling before Christmas! Too, the walk to the commuter train, though not too long, is mostly uphill. And there are stairs. The sack with pastries, cakes and breads slips and slides, the duffel bag refuses to stay on my shoulder, the little suitcase has a zipper that is just barely hanging in there. Uff!

And still, we all make it to Detroit just fine.

And finally, to Madison. And, with Ed -- back to the farmette. Lovely old home, quiet and warm. It's always so very good to return to it.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Paris

Sometimes, when in Paris, you want to blend into la vie Parisienne. Do as they do, move around with that brisk step (that is only surpassed in speed an confidence by a New Yorker), shop with their flair, eat their foods, blend, blend, blend into their neighborhoods.

At other times, you want to be a tourist.

I woke up (late again!) thinking that I'm ready to rejoin the throngs who come here for something other than the strolling, shopping, eating, and blending. Paris has the art of all art. It can overwhelm you, there's so much of it! Very often, I put it aside for another visit. Or, I seek out the small museums, often tucked into neighborhoods that are quite the distance from the main drag. And just every once in a while, I go back to the greats.

It's a gorgeous day today -- sunny, a bit colder (near 40F, or about 4C), but absolutely brilliant.


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As I walk down to my breakfast at Les Editeurs, I'm thinking that I should take in one of the more distant museums today -- the Marmottan. The walk there would be grand and there is a special exhibit that I would love to check out.

(Breakfast selfie)


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My walk to the distant museum puts me at first by the river. On a sunny winter day, this is Paris at her best.


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My step is brisk, my energy levels are high.

As I pass by the Musee d'Orsay, I give it a friendly wave. Love you, Musee d'O, but you overwhelm me with your crowds, your voluminous spaces, your specials, your everything!  (Indeed, I saw that its special exhibition on Picasso has been sold out for weeks. Uff! I do not like excessively popular museums.)

But as I walk past it, I see that for the museum itself (as opposed to this one special exhibit), there are no lines at all. This puzzles me greatly. Is it that people are avoiding public spaces because France right now is being traumatized from all sides? (Indeed, all museums, performances, public shows etc were called off and closed up over the weekend.)

So, should I go in?

I mull this over, but only for a second. There are two other special exhibits at the d'Orsay that tempt me and perhaps most significantly, the Impressionist collection has just recently opened in its new, revamped setting.

I go in. And not only do I buy a ticket for today, I buy a pass for a whole year. (If you go just four times here, and/or to the Orangerie across the river, you'll have more than made up for the price of the pass). This means that whenever I am in Paris, I can hop in without a wait, even if the line stretches a mile long (come summertime, things can get intense here).

I check out the first special exhibit. Nice. Interesting. An artist speculates about the influence of the Impressionists on his work. For me, it's a five - ten minute thing.

I get on the escalator, The Impressionists -- the whole lot of them, in their new space -- are on the top floor.


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Wow!


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Oh my... The tears come freely.

(I listen to a guide every now and then... You can do that if you're so inclined.)


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And I am so happy to see that the Museum has loosened its restrictions against photography. I suppose it's just too difficult to monitor -- all those smart phones are snapping away -- how do you get them to stop? But more to the point, why should they stop? People's reaction to art is such a personal thing. If you like your selfie moment next to a favorite canvas, that's cool! If keeping that image in your souvenir album is important to you, well then keep it! One should never tell people how to look at art!


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For me, Impressionism is like a temple to the better side of human nature. I have spent my entire adulthood coming back to it again and again for inspiration. The very idea here is that you can step out of your own reality and see something better.


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Take Monet: his gardens alone pushed me to do better at the farmette, but it doesn't end there. His canvases reaffirm for me the belief that how you see the world is in your head. You don't have to give in to the ordinariness of a brush going this way and that, or a garden's failings or the world's shortcomings. You can step back and see beauty.


If that weren't enough to make this museum visit utterly priceless, there is yet another special moment in store: the third listed exhibit is on Renoir and his son. Wait, so the Renoir of the French film scene is related to Renoir the artist?? Am I the only one on the planet who didn't know that?

The exhibit depicts the relation between father (the painter) and son (the film maker).


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I don't know that I've ever seen anything like it! There are movie clips and Renoir paintings -- all presented in intimate spaces, focusing on themes that are personal, complicated and intenesely moving.


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In the later stages of his life, Renoir the filmmaker returns to the place in the country where his father painted. (Those lovely paintings of what you think are mother and child?


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...they're actually of baby Renoir the future film maker, and his nanny -- a beautiful model for Remoir the painter). He shoots films there that coddle you with the bucolic scenery and the prettiness of country life, but after a few years, he leaves it all, returning to his established home in the U.S. He reminds us that  "for our peace of mind, we must try to escape from the spell of memories. Our salvation lies in plunging resolutely into the hell of the new world."

Simply put, you should not go back. The better choice is to move on.


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I leave the museum soon after (with so many books for my grandkids on art, on Paris, on everything that is lovely here!).


So I am a tourist today. So let's remind ourselves of what else Paris has to offer. This!



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I spent several hours in the museum and now the afternoon is rapidly cascading toward evening. No point in searching out more distant museums. I turn around and head back toward the hotel.


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But, but, but -- what about lunch??

All roads for me appear to lead to the Cafe Varenne. It's nearly three and most lunch serving places in France wont cook up anything for you after 2:30, but this is a cafe and its rules are slightly more lax. I pick a salad with beets and goat cheese and predictably, it is so very fine!


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And now the sun has set.


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Within a few minutes, it is dark.


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Back in my hotel room, I use the hour that I have prior to dinner for consolidating, squeezing and using lots of positive thinking to fit everything into the bags I've brought with me. There, I've done it!

Time to head out to Semilla. Yes, the restaurant I always return to on my last night in Paris. Why there? Well, it's never failed me.  The food is always, always extremely well prepared. It's not exceptionally complicated, but it's faultless and beautiful and the staff is fantastically enthusiastic and the bubbly water, in unlimited supplies, is free!

(Like the previous two restaurants, it's an open kitchen set up.)


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I've been loyal to it since it opened. It's forever packed now, but they have a wonderful system where you can only reserve within the two weeks of your dining date. It keeps the place neighborhoody and young. Sure, the early diners are tourists, but eventually the Parisians pour in and everyone seems so grateful to be eating a good meal, Parisians, foreigners, me and you, all together sharing the few dishes that the kitchen staff and chefs have prepared for us.

I truly adore Semilla.

And now it is really late. I note that the moon shines brightly over the Odeon Theater, over my little hotel. Over you as well.


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Tomorrow, I head home.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Paris

I don't know where this day went. One minute, I'm eating my morning croissant, the next -- it's dark and I better hurry or I will forfeit my dinner reservation.

Because I don't know where time disappeared, you won't get a long post out of me today. But short does not imply failure. The day was beautiful. But terribly short. At least, in retrospect, it feels that it got away from me too fast.

You're going to tell me I probably got up too late. Well fine, but in Paris, everyone (who is a visitor) gets up too late. I forced myself out of bed by 9. I'm sure others pushed it even further.

(A look out my window onto the Odeon Theater. It's going to be a beautiful day again!)


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I go to breakfast at the Cafe Les Editeurs. It's just a couple of blocks from my hotel and I have long come to the conclusion that searching for some other breakfast elsewhere is stupid. Les Editeurs has a great fixed price option, and it has the best croissants within spittin' distance (sorry, the imagery isn't good there!), and it's close by.


(I sit by the window today. The view: )


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Inside, I'm stunned to see that it's packed. There's barely a seat available. I have never, ever seen it this crowded! Where did all the people come from? They all seem to be speaking French. But why have the numbers swelled? I think for a few minutes if there is a good way to ask the waitstaff why this place is suddenly so popular, decide that there is not, and so I sit down and take my usual selfie with the pain au chocolat and a heavenly croissant...


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... and then I move on with my day, walking, popping into stores, covering the Left Bank blocks I've covered too many times before with my footprints.

I do pick up a number of holiday presents as the day progresses. In general, I am one who hates the physical act of shopping, but put me in Paris stores and I melt. The experience at once tests my patience (if the person before me wants to speculate endlessly about the perfect gift for her young niece, she will get the clerk's undivided attention, no matter how long it takes) and leaves me feeling like I've just cycled through ten holiday parties, where people just couldn't wait for me to appear so that they could talk to me. French shop clerks make it personal. It's not about the product, it's about you and them and if you play by the rules of politeness and etiquette, you can walk away thinking you've just made a handful of new best friends.

And here's another detail to remember: the clerks have that knack of making everything look better than it really is. They're born with it. I'll give you an example. There are many many articles of clothing that seem to me to be just so very perfect. But I cannot spend money on myself and hope to keep on traveling going forward, so I go through the day resisting the impulse to just try something on. But then along comes this sweatshirt. Here, this one:


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I can't stop imagining myself all cozy in it on any number of winter days where I am playing with the grandkids. Horrors! They don't have my size! Long sold out. I try on the smaller one: nah. It's too close fitting. I try the larger one. I hesitate. Madame the clerk rushes over and she immediately tsk tsk's her way to this sleeve, that cord, pulling it a little just so, and when she is done, the scene is transfixed. The sweatshirt is just right, perfect, adorable, but I'll say this -- it'll never look as good on me again as it did back then in the sore when madame got her hands on it.

Speaking of dogs -- if you bring one in along for the ride, the clerks will fawn over her or him even more than they will fawn over you, so be prepared for that shift in adoration. You can't let your ego get involved. French just have this hyper affection for pooches.


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I spent a good hour (more?) in the food halls of the Left Bank Department store, Le Bon Marche. I have many holiday meals before me and I thought it would be nice to buy some treats for them. One of my family members has to stay clear of dairy products and so I pore over product ingredients, sifting out those that have tell tale signs of lait or beurre or anything else that comes from a cow.


Then there are the surprise visits to places I hadn't quite remembered were there. Take Angelina's: someone recently raved about Angelina's in Paris. It's a chocolate shop, specializing in chocolates and hot chocolate mixes, all sold in delightfully decorated cans. Snowdrop loves these painted French tins and so I put on my list a trip to the Right Bank, where Angelina's has been occupying a sacred spot for more than 100 years.

Who knew that it can also be found on Rue du Bac -- a street I always walk to in my rambles and ambles in Paris.


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(Two young women studying Angelina's pastries in the window.)


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Rue du Bac is also home to Cafe Varenne. If you ever have been to Paris with me, you will have been to Cafe Varenne. I had intended to go to lunch there today, but by the time my loop brings me to it, it is after five.


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I sit down anyway. Outside.  The weather is that much better here than in Wisconsin.

What would madame like?
I was wondering if this one thing is possible...
Madame, anything is possible.
.. a slice of cheese and some bread?
I'll be right back with it.

Travelers complain about French waiters. Honestly, I don't get it. French waiters are the most hard working, efficient waiters I've ever come across. Are they gruff? I don't know... Perhaps they don't smile with their teeth showing. But almost always, they are polite, fast and efficient and every once in a while -- very funny.


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Paris at this time of the year is, of course, Christmas focused. The store windows aren't amass with elaborate decorations, but they are clever! Take this simple one in a shoe store...


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Snowdrop would have loved it.


By the time I complete my loop and am back at my sweet little hotel, It's past seven and I have only ten minutes to collapse before setting out again for dinner.

I am once more under the influence of the hotel staff: they really loved a new Italian place that's over in the 5th, Cucina Mutualite. (If it's in the 5th Arrondissement, you're inevitably going to catch sight of the Pantheon on your walk.)


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Again, it comes from the imagination and talent of a super chef and if you know any French chef at all, you will have heard of him -- Alain Ducasse. He has to have at least two dozen restaurants by now world wide and yes, he has more Michelin stars up his leave than just about any one. But Cucina is no fancy place. It's modern, simple, with industrial lines and lots of clever puns on art work. (Waiters are all in red and white stripes. The hanging salamis are made of cloth.)


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(Like yesterday's place, it's an open kitchen set up.)


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I've actually been in this space when it was another restaurant -- one specializing in Paris sourced foods. But that's a good two or three years ago. Since Ducasse took over, it's all about the best interpretation of very simple Italian foods.


And it is awesome! My pasta vongole (with clams) is the best I'd ever had -- not too briny, silky smooth, with totally delicious little clams generously worked into the noodles. (I again sit at the bar -- the restaurant fills up even on a Tuesday night and though I reserved a while back, tables go fast.)


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I had skipped an appetizer so that I could try both a pasta dish and a main course. I chose the sea bass for the second. I had toyed with selecting the Florentine steak, but the waiter shook his head, telling me it would be too much after the pasta. Helpful guy.


I did have two griefs: one is that they shut off the Italian music a few minutes into my visit. I suspect they'd left it on by mistake, but I had been enjoying it tremendously and then it was gone. Secondly, no one noticed (not me, not them) that I did not get my credit card back after I paid for my meal. It's only a fifteen minute walk to my hotel, but I was hugely tired and when I got a phone message about the card as I entered the hotel lobby, I was dismayed: back I had to go, another 15 minutes each way.

Nonetheless, the staff was so sweet and apologetic that I  forgave everything. I made up for the long walk by turning my smart phone onto Christmas music. I dont have ear buds, so anyone within a close range would have had to listen as well and I have quite the selection -- from the Muppets to Clare's College Choir in England.

(There are many ways to move around Paris these days. Personally, I still prefer walking over anything else.)


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A full day! A good day! I am getting my fill of walking the city. When I get back (Thursday), farmette life will feel like a vacation!