Saturday, October 31, 2015

the day after the return

It is thought that when you return from a trip, impressions from your travel days quickly dissipate and you find yourself thinking hardly at all about your recent adventures. Life takes over and pushes you forward.

But then, how do you explain these:

I wake up at 4 and because I am still in another time zone, I refuse to go back to sleep. For the rest of the day my tiredness will remind me that I have been traveling.

The very first thing on my to-do list is to give Ed a haircut. Talk about overgrown and shaggy! (What a difference a week makes!) Then, we have breakfast of course, even though the fruit supply is low. In fact, the food supply is low. But, there's never a shortage of oatmeal! And on the table, I place the pot of Giverny flowers...

farmette life-4.jpg

(I do take note of the fact that my sister's oatmeal is better than mine. More lumpy. I plan on changing my oatmeal making routines so that I can more closely approximate hers.)

I set out to shop for food and because Ed is feeling a bit deprived of my company, he tags along. That hasn't happened in years. It's quite lovely actually, even if I then have to put up with him packing the grocery bags. He claims the grocery clerks squeeze in too few items in each bag. Can you tell whose side I'm on in this one?

At the store I buy buckwheat in bulk. Having it in Poland again reminds me how much I like it. It was such a Polish staple during the post war years...

I unpack the groceries. I place the bunch of parsley in a glass with water. I saw my sister do that. I just throw my parsley into the refrigerator where it promptly wilts within several days. Hers was nice and perky. Besides, a bunch of parsley in a glass is really attractive.

And then I really scrub the crevices of the burners on the stove. This, too, is the aftermath of staying at my sister's home. Her stove hasn't a spot on it. Though Ed claims I am a neat freak, I worry that surely my standards must have slackened because honestly there is no question about it -- her stove was even more fresh and shiny. As of today, mine is that way as well.

Yes, my trip is still with me.

Fall has truly set in. (What a difference a week makes!) It's a rainy day and so I don't spend much time outside, but I do step out just to smell that damp autumnal air.

farmette life-6.jpg

The cheepers greet me of course and I am happy to see them, especially since our night prowler has not gone away. So far, we're winning the fight with whoever it is that wants access to them. May it stay that way.

And in the evening, the young family and the other grandmother are here for supper and that means I get to see Snowdrop! I stick pinwheels in the pathway to the farmhouse, because I know she likes to look at this spinning toy when we pass it each time we go for a walk. (Ed says -- They look a bit cheap and trashy! I like them!)

farmette life-8.jpg

And now the family is here for our Sunday dinner (except it's Saturday and I am not yet ready to cook, so we do Japanese take out). And Snowdrop is lively and so very grown up! (What a difference a week makes!)


So tall, strong and able!

snowdrop 772.jpg

Friday, October 30, 2015

refelcting on Paris

What is it with me and France -- Paris in particular? Why do I come here so often? Am I a committed Francophile? No, not really. There are things that admire about each  -- Americans, the French, Poles -- national traits that I suppose give some kind of perspective on the person who lives according to that particular local custom. But I can't be persuaded that one is preferable to the other. (And, at the other end, there are things that I don't admire at all, but even if national traits, the less noble ones, are associated with a country, they don't define individuals. Plenty of people have managed to live great lives without succumbing to ignoble national identities.)

But I do go to France very often -- more often than any other place on the planet and there are reasons why adopted this place to travel to, to gather my wits and think things through. It felt comfortable in a way that Poland didn't, for a long long time. And over the years, I got to know France so very well that it became a second home. And because I live year round in the country and in any case away from any great metropolis, Paris provided a delightful balance.

Here's a glance at the Sorbonne (across from my hotel this time), with very Sorbonne like persons in front.


Here's my Thursday breakfast, with a conspicuous absence of pain au chocolat. If Paris is like home, then I have calm my travel breakfast habits. As it is, after a few days of eating just bread product, I start missing my oatmeal and fruit.


Playing with my camera. In Paris, I feel the freedom that comes with travel to a big place where no one really notices or cares what you're doing.


Though I love traveling alone and I have been doing it since I was 18 and first started hopping back and forth between America and Europe as if it was only a river and not the ocean, still I miss my loved ones.

Here's a book that I purchased in Bon Marche, that exquisite (and exquisitely expensive) department store on the left bank. It's in French, but I'm hoping through repetition Snowdrop will understand the beautiful text. It's about a little girl who visits her grandma's house where everything is so different, everything is so fun! It's a gorgeous book -- drop dead gorgeous. And of course I love the theme!


A girl reads in the corner of the book and toy section. Oh, how I wish our grandchildren knew bookstores back in my American home, like we knew them, or even their parents knew them and yes, children here know them.


As I said so many times here, I miss my family. I miss Ed.

I suppose it's not a coincidence that I picked for my frequent destination this country where personal connections matter. I had a delightful conversation with a French-Colombian sales clerk in this same store who recently got a job selling children's clothing. His real passion is photography and he liked my little camera (which is always suspended around my neck). We talked a lot about picture taking (it was not very busy at the Bon Marche, possibly because of the prices) and then he asked me about my granddaughter and explained proudly that his girl now knew a thousand words in Spanish and another thousand in French. French people, like Polish people, can seem aloof, but once they see that you are responsive, they engage you at a deeper level, leaving you very satisfied. You always learn something from each other.

Ah, family in France! In this country more than anywhere else, I'm almost always the only diner eating alone in the evenings. The waiters treat me with utmost care, perhaps thinking that I, more than others, will profit from their gentility. Around me, people eat in pairs or groups. The French have this well documented thing about food: it is vital to their identity and there are rules that you can like or dislike, but most people follow them to the letter: eat only at mealtimes, slowly, socially, savoring every bite. This is taught early! I don't know of any parent who deviates from the 8-12-4-7 eating schedule with their child. Breakfast, copious lunch, afternoon light meal, dinner. Here's a mom meeting someone over lunch at this same department store. The baby is learning to eat slowly, socially, savoring every sip I imagine. And on schedule!


Of course, France, like Poland, cannot resist picking up on habits of cousins across the ocean. Lightly and not too garishly, but still, you can catch glimpses of it and it is especially amusing when it merges into something so distinctly not American as having a Halloween cake at a very expensive and very refined pastry shop.


I go to lunch at Cafe Varenne. People eat lunch on schedule of course, so it's crowded as can be, but I get a tiny table by the window and the waiters are, as always, superb! And the food? Magnificent. I order the special of the day (as does nearly everyone else): grilled scampi over delicately warmed tomatoes and rice.

Outside, I see that the bakery has gotten its lunch batch of baguettes. The people from the neighborhood line up to get their loaf.


Cafe Varenne also has the best lemon tart anywhere and though I do not usually buy pastries in Paris anymore, I break the rule here.


Let me include a view of Rue du Bac, where the Varenne is located. (I first discovered it many years ago when we stayed at the hotel to the left.)


Food, camaraderie, an easy laugh, attention to presentation.



And of course, as you know, I love the parks in any city, but nowhere more than in Warsaw and in Paris. Here I am, in my beloved Luxembourg Gardens again. I have never shed a tear here. There's too much calm and beauty for even the most frazzled soul.


(And of course, there are the fall leaves...)


But here's another point I want to take up: if Paris is a second home, how does Warsaw fare now?


Warsaw these days fares very well. You could say that two things have pushed it to the forefront for me: what stressed me terribly even a few years ago during visits haunts me no more. Too, with Ed not traveling anymore, Warsaw offers something special: family and friends. They're there. My sister has (mostly) returned from Sweden, my friends never left. And that's just great!

Here's something that France and Poland share: the love of this little fruit that was with me all my Polish childhood years.


Ditto the mushrooms. Both types.


And so you're likely to see more of Poland in my posts going forward, with a continued loyal return to France, but slightly less of the random places that so often caught my travel fancy in the past. Right now, friends and family trump the exotic.

I have more to say on this topic, but I'll save it for later, because it's too big a subject to continue with now in an already long post.

Let me finish with this thought: there is nothing wrong with being alone.


There is nothing wrong with being with friends or family.


The best of all possible worlds is one where you can have some of both.

For this last night, I am dining alone of course, but it's at Pouic Pouic, where I am such a regular that I feel like I am among friends. (Again, personal connections matter in France. If you want them, you will find them.)


And of course, the food is exquisite! (Here, I am eating an appetizer of burrata in a cepes (wild mushroom) sauce.


One more food image -- of dessert: a mango/mascarpone/fresh almond/pineapple sorbet concoction.


The moon shines brightly over many places tonight, but I can only give you Paris:


Friday morning I see that same moon as I leave my hotel at 6 a.m.. I eat breakfast at the airport, where I have my only pain au chocolat of the trip. One can't be too rigid in life!


The plane takes off to the east, then swings back due west. Paris rises like a magic kingdom from the mists that swirl around this beautiful city on a late October morning.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

one day in Paris

I had it. My one day in Paris. And now it's done and I'm going home in the wee hours of the morning.

I cannot post now -- there are too few minutes left, too much stuff on my mind.

It wasn't, by any means, an extraordinary day. Still, the travel schedule is upon us. I'll come back to Paris in my post tomorrow. I leave you now with only one photo. You could say that it spins the tale of this trip -- fall colors.

From the Luxembourg Gardens today:


To be continued tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

from Warsaw to Paris

I am riding the city bus from a downtown stop -- a stop that's as close as you can imagine to my childhood homes and my Polish elementary school -- I'm riding it to the airport. I've been up for a good bit of the night, thinking Polish thoughts and, too, seeing my sister off, as she had a kind deed to do for our cousin who needed a helping hand this morning. My sister was out of the house by 6 and after eating a wonderful pre-breakfast of wild blueberries, kefir and acacia honey...


... I took one last look at the mirror that hangs in her apartment hallway...


... and let myself out. I had a date with my precious Warsaw friend and I made my way to the center of Warsaw (in those blocks so close to my former homes, so close!)...


(I lived here at a time when a building sculpture like this was inspiring to some, somewhat unsettling to others...)


... yes, to the center, where I could catch a glimpse of our fabulous parks, but this was no time for a walk there, not for me, nor for those engaged in the daily stuff of life...


Instead, it was time to sit back with my friend and reflect on all that had happened in the last months, the sadnesses of other friends and thus our own, and then eventually, to talk about the future and consider the possibilities...


And then I must break off this lovely meeting, eat my cheesecake, drink my coffee and get on that city bus and she rides it with me for a while, but then she takes off for her day and I continue.

A woman sits down next to me. The bus is fairly crowded and I try to make room for her, pushing my suitcase to the side, but she waves away my efforts, telling me that she is quite comfortable, thank you very much.

I notice she has an impeccable complexion. I put her age at just a year or two older than me, but I find out later that she is actually 79. So now I understand why she has such impeccable skin tone: she belongs to that generation of women who perhaps had few luxuries in life as measured by western standards, but what they did have (I'm talking about the urban population) was access to weekly session with cosmeticians who would steam, clean, massage the faces of thousands (millions?) of Warsaw women, applying lovely creams after that we proudly believed were far superior to the junk sold to the west of us or to the east.

The suitcase prods her to ask if I am going to the airport and if so, what trip am I about to take. I explain that on the contrary, my trip is drawing to an end soon. I am beginning a return home.

Very quickly she learns where my home is and she learns, too, that I have not been visiting my childhood city to perhaps pay some annual respect to my mother's grave, no indeed -- that my mother is nearly 92 and lives with a great deal of independence in California. (I learn too, all about this woman's children, and all three grandchildren who are now past college age, and about her own politechnique studies, her divorce, and her directorship of her own construction company for a dozen years.)

What impresses the woman most is that my mom does water aerobics in an outdoor pool every day, Monday through Friday. She tells me that she herself goes power walking with her friends -- she is on her way to meet up with them now -- but only twice a week. I urge her to add a third day and after thinking for a bit, she admits it's doable and decides to add Thursday to her walk schedule.

I write all this detail here, because I think it is so very telling about how quickly I fit in to being a Warsaw girl again and, too, how genuinely curious people here are about each other, and how not unusual it is to have just such a conversation with a stranger in the space of a twenty minute bus ride.

Continuing my string of good flight connections, I board the noon flight and several hours later I am landing in Paris.


As you know, fall is in full swing in these parts as well. (See Giverny posts.) But after Giverny and after Warsaw's park, the lovely bronzed chestnuts of Paris's Luxembourg Gardens have to take only a modest spot in the line-up of autumn beauties.


(Not that most Gardens visitors would necessarily notice.)


And, too, my attention is starting to shift now. My thoughts stray more and more to my grandchild and as I look around me, all I see is one grandparent after another, all tending to their grandkids.


Predictably, I pop into a store and satisfy my grandmotherly urges by picking out a dress for Snowdrop, all strips and bunny rabbits, because she is, of course such a hopping bunny rabbit herself...


That's the fun stuff. Back at the hotel, I get a disappointing email from my sister -- plans we were hatching have to be put aside. There is a glitch. More on that later.

And my simple neighborhood eatery that was to feed me dinner tonight left many messages on my computer and phone telling me that the cook is sick and can I please reschedule for the weekend?

No I cannot.

So I have to come up with a place to eat and I truly do not like wasting time on this when I am already good and hungry.

I am staying in the hotel I pick for when I am feeling especially tight on cash -- the Design Sorbonne. You can still get a good room at this quirky but nice hotel for as little as 95 Euros per night if you book ahead. Of course, it will be a tiny room and you may have to put up with lots of pinks and reds. Me, I don't mind. In fact, I'm rather charmed by it. And the view is very satisfying -- right onto the thick ornate walls of the Sorbonne.


I decide to walk over to an old favorite restaurant, Le Timbre. But when I get there, I see that they're full for the night. The next door Moustache has a table and I almost take it, but then I peak at the menu at the third cousin in this shoulder to shoulder line up of good small restaurants -- Invictus -- and I see that they have mushrooms on the menu, twice in fact: in the morel cream soup over scallops and then, for a main course, I see that they have a John Dory with chanterelles. That makes it way too easy: I want to eat at the Invictus.

And when my mushroom dishes come, I feel like Julia Child in the movie where she is served something so very yummy in Paris -- bubbling over with delight , mopping up every last bit with a wonderfully crusty bit of baguette.


I walk back to the hotel once again deeply satisfied.

 The moon shines brightly...


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

from Warsaw

My flight landed last night at Warsaw Chopin Airport by the light of the (almost) full moon. You could have turned off all airport lights and it would have still been a bright landing. I did not take a photo, because I knew whatever I snapped would not give you even a fraction of its beauty.

My sister greeted me, as always and we took the bus to her home, where she and I spent many hours talking into the night and munching on beet soup, herring on dark bread, and cabbage slaw. We cracked fresh walnuts which are in season right now. Did you ever eat a fresh, soft walnut? Mmmm... There is an earthiness to October (mushrooms, walnuts) that you forget about when you shop in stores that supply foods year round. (I can almost hear the question: you mean walnuts have a season??)

In the morning, we have some bureaucratic stuff to take care of, right after breakfast, of course. My sister cooks me her favorite which happens to be my favorite as well -- oatmeal. With kefir, blueberries, honey.


After our paper work, we go for a walk. It's the classic one for me and so you will have seen bits and pieces of it in prior Warsaw posting.

This is a square (actually a circle, one of our favorites for very nostalgic reasons: we went to high school steps away from it) that starts us off...


... and from here, we do a detour to a favorite cafe (Oleandrow 3), one that represents the new, younger, more intense and at the same time take-things-for-granted Poland.


Then Lazineki. The best park anywhere. So very beautiful on this cold but sunny autumnal day!






Yes, Snowdrop! We have very friendly red squirrels here!





We take an early dinner break at Zorza -- a wonderful new eatery that does "from scratch, innovative and informal" very very well! I have the stuffed cabbage with buckwheat and chanterelle mushrooms -- so authentically Polish but so creative and clever!


We continue our walk. Sunset over one of the key arteries of the city:


Onto New Town. Lovely old (though not that old) New Town.


... where I always stare at the Polish doughnuts: fried in lard, with rose jam inside and orange rind outside. Like no other!


Finally, Castle Square. Nearly the end of our walk.


We do something unusual then: we look at an apartment that's for sale. I'm curious what homeowners (or potential homeowners) deal with here and we look at a place that's beautifully located between the old town and the central, more commercial Warsaw. What would it be like to be a Varsovian now, in the new Poland?

Back at her house, my sister turns on the radio and we hear songs about the Polish autumn -- songs that date back to our high school days. She muses how she's been with the city of Warsaw through many of its epochs and turmoils and changes -- and she has. As have my friends who all still live here. Me, I come and go. I always return to the farmette, but then, I always return here as well.

Tomorrow though, I leave for Paris.